Young Entrepreneurs Learn the Art of the Deal

Jul 13, 2015

Entrepreneurial summer campers hawk their products at the Valley Junction Farmers Market in West Des Moines.
Credit Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

  The future of Iowa’s economy is front-and-center this summer during a series of week-long camps for young entrepreneurs. Middle school students polish their elevator pitches and sell their newly designed products at the weekly Farmers Market in the Valley Junction shopping area of West Des Moines. Twelve-year-old Logan Kempf shows her handmade jewelry to a potential customer.

“Those will then be put into a bracelet or a necklace with the wire and the clippers and it will be customized just for you,” she explains.

Logan is enrolled in the youth entrepreneurship camp put on by the Jacobson Institute at the University of Iowa. It’s designed to give young people like Logan a feel for what it means to start and operate their own companies.

“I really do want to be an entrepreneur," she says. "I always wanted to be. I’m not very good at letting other people boss me around.”

Twelve-year-old Logan Kempf markets her home-made bracelets.
Credit Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

Thirteen-year-old Patrick Byler is back for his second year at camp. He recruited five classmates to join him this summer.

“We enjoyed it so much that they would think, wow, they can enjoy it," he says. "They can build their own product and they can tell other people and just spread the word.”

The young entrepreneurs meet older, successful entrepreneurs during the week and tour local businesses. The lead instructor for the camp is Diane Fickel. She says they also gain a ton of confidence.

“These kids who attend this camp are the leaders in their schools," she says. "They have initiative and pride that is unbelievable, and their self-esteem is undeniable when they leave the camp.”

Eleven-year-old Zoe Zmolek likes the hands-on, interactivity of the camp where instructors help mold the marketing campaigns for the future business owners. She says they’re very supportive.

“I think the teachers are lovely and so nice and so sweet and so helpful,” she says.

The ultimate activity involves ten entrepreneurs making final elevator pitches in hopes of winning a $100 first place prize. The director of the Jacobson Institute, Dawn Bowlus, was one of two judges who determined the winner. She says she was impressed.

“They had a plan and they were able to go through their presentation," she says while trying to determine a winner. "They understood how their pricing was going to work. They knew how they were going to make money.”

In the end, a tie was declared between Steffen Osborn, developer of a cardboard laundry folder, which would fit right in on the QVC network.

“My EZ, Breezy Laundry folder can fold your laundry in just three flips and can cut your laundry time in half,” he says during his pitch.

And repeat winner Fez Zafar, who was recognized for his social entrepreneurship in selling T-shirts to raise money for a school in Pakistan.

Fez Zafar urges a passerby at the Valley Junction Farmers Market to support young entrepreneurs.
Credit Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

“Each shirt costs 15-dollars, meaning each shirt pays for the education of one child for one month,” he says.

All told, it was a pretty good week for Fez. He continued the work he began last year to develop a business plan for his charity project. But there were some tough lessons along the way.  During the Valley Junction Farmers Market, he found promoting products to the public is hard work. But it didn’t faze him.

“I will keep waiting until one person says, yes I would like to, I will not leave this place,” he pledges.

So the overall message to these young future employers is the key to launching a new business enterprise is bouncing back from rejection. Just like Fez Zafar.

“Would you like to support future entrepreneurs?" he asks a passerby who stops to ask how he might help. "What we did was we went and bought supplies and we all made products and now we’re selling them here," Zeff continues. "We’re learning how to make a profit and market our products.”