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Sugar House Journal

Granite to offer new hands-on entrepreneurial program this fall

Feb 22, 2022 20h01 ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Granite Technical Institute is accepting applications from incoming seniors for its new program, Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, or CEO, that will be offered this coming fall.

Through a partnership between the school and the local business community, 20 students will gain real-world experience each week by meeting with about 40 business owners and representatives, tour local companies, and be paired with a business leader as a mentor to learn entrepreneurial skills.

“I’m super excited; during the first semester, they will do a class project, which teaches students how to start a business and most of the time it’s more event-based, where they will think about the details of the event and what does it take,” GTI’s CEO program facilitator Erin Paulsen said. “The second semester, they actually start their own businesses, and it results in actual products or services that they sell at a trade show event we’ll hold at the end of the year.”

Interested students in Granite and other Salt Lake County school districts are invited to apply by March 14 for the program that will pick them up from a Granite high school and meet from 7:45 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. three days per week. A panel will select students without knowledge of their names or schools, but solely on the applications that include students rating themselves, answers to questions and letters of recommendations including one from a school counselor that addresses standing in school, attendance and if they’re hard workers, she said.

“I’m expecting the kids in CEO to want to learn; they see a value in it and want to connect,” Paulsen said adding that students will be evaluated by their understanding and proficiency on projects in the program where they will receive Career and Technical Education credit. “One of those projects may be here is $5, turn it into $100 by next week. They have to think outside the box and figure out, how can I make this money?”

During the first semester, students will focus on a business or likely, a one-time event, such as a trivia night, murder-mystery, bowling or drive-in night. It will be decided on by the class and money raised from that can be used as seed money for individual businesses second term.

Some of those businesses may help students pay for college either by continuing it or selling it.

“For a lot of kids, this is going to be their opportunity to have a business during college and then they’re done; maybe it’ll just be a learning experience and then they’ll be done. We could see a very successful company come out of this, especially since they’ll have connections,” she said referring to the partnerships with local business leaders. “The high school entrepreneurship classes are more learning about it versus this is doing it. This class is going to be really hard work. They’re starting their own business. It’s not that they’re doing it because I want them to do it. It’s they’re doing it because they want to make money in their own businesses; they want to do it. It changes the motivation.”

Community business leaders play an active role as guest speakers, mentors, investors or to give tours to students, said Centeva chief finance officer and chief operating officer Matt Thomas, who is the chairman of the nine-member CEO program board. He was one who reached out to business chief executive officers, CFOs and others to get involved.

“We targeted companies and industries that would give a good variety of experiences to the kids in the class; there were a lot of people who are willing to help out,” he said. “Everybody sees the value in getting some of that real-world experience earlier with some structure from the community and making those connections at an early age. The students are expanding their perspective as to what’s possible. I wish that I would have had that perspective and experience as a 17-year-old instead of having to stumble into that perspective later in life.”

Thomas said that many business leaders want to develop relationships in the community and this program allows for potential for partnerships or future employees.

“People are interested in the perspective of people from a younger generation as consumers and leaders from the next generation, so it is a two-way street,” he said. “I think that entrepreneurship as a discipline doesn’t get enough attention. People assume that those who have that in their blood will jump in and figure it out. I think more and more people would do it if they knew how and if they saw it as a viable option and if they had a better sense of what the rewards are. These people are willing to share their experiences.”

Paulsen said that local businesses invest in the program, paying for bus transportation so students can tour companies weekly. Those businesses involved in the program range from software companies to carpet cleaners, from restaurants and entertainment industries to credit unions and insurance companies.

“There are all kinds of different industries so they can explore and get ideas of ‘how can I improve an existing product and make a company out of that’ or maybe there’s a need that is lacking that they know of. We want students to think entrepreneurially instead of just checking the boxes and taking the test,” Paulsen said. “We’re wanting them to explore in a way that makes them think: ‘I could do this. I could solve this program and start my own business.’ We’re going to do it experience-based and ask students questions that provoke them to think different ways and solve the problems themselves.”

While Paulsen can help put students in touch with companies and even GTI programs to “match them with people who know that skills and know what they need to do that step,” students also will rely upon mentors in the business world. Mentors will review students’ business plans, look at their weekly progress, read students’ journal entries about their experiences in the weekly tours and in meetings with business leaders, and follow up with students about what they’re learning.

During the weekly tours of businesses, students will learn how they got started, what they do, what people they serve so “they can start to think about their target market and how to reach them and how they may get started,” Paulsen said, adding that with guest speakers, students will learn firsthand about their experiences.

The year-end trade show will feature professional booths featuring students’ businesses and services and will serve as a fundraiser for start-up funds for next year’s students in the program.

Granite School District, which partnered with Midland Institute of Entrepreneurship to offer the CEO program, has taken the past year to set up this program.

Midland provides not only the experience it has gained from years of offering the program, but also materials, training and the website template. The institute also will help with retention of the program.

Paulsen said the CEO program has been successful in the Midwest, but this is the first in Utah. She has firsthand knowledge of the program as many members of her extended family are involved in it as mentors and board members, and as students trying to sell their products in Illinois.

“I’m seeing it from all angles and have seen what a cool program it is. It’s a whole community initiative,” she said. “I’m excited about having it here. I hope that in a few years, we can open a CEO program at each high school. If we’re able to do that, we can involve each and every community as part of it. This is the perfect marriage between business and education; it’s a great way to support these students.”