story by Josh Taylor Souza, special to The City Wire
FAYETTEVILLE — Summer vacation for a high school student typically involves a healthy diet of sleep and video games. However, a group of entrepreneurial-minded teens are ditching the lethargic lifestyle of their peers for a chance to build a better future for themselves.
“I've had a few people ask me why I would want to be up at 8 a.m. for class in the summer. But the biggest thing for me, is that I have big ideas and I want to learn how to see them through,” said Fayetteville High School junior Ramsey Jones. “If you want to be successful it always helps to take notes from other successful people.”
After just one full day Jones said, “the camp is just getting started and I feel like I have already learned a great deal.”
More than a dozen area high school juniors and seniors are taking part in the 2012 Entrepreneur Boot Camp, hosted by the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce and NorthWest Arkansas Community College.
The main force behind the camp is George Tanner, who heads up NWACC’s Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) program.
“This camp is the brain-child of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce and NWACC's Leadership Institute because we believe creating an entrepreneurial mindset is critical to the future of our economy. We want to start setting that mindset early,” said Tanner. “In our SIFE program we have done several note-worthy projects over the years, but never anything of this magnitude and we owe much of that to the help we have received from the Fayetteville Chamber.”
The inaugural program is a four-day smorgasbord of business skill-building opportunities, hosted at the local chamber. The participants will learn valuable business tools ranging from marketing to planning and even public speaking. They will also have the opportunity to tour a variety of locally owned businesses this week.
“We are basically spending our entire day immersing the students in what it takes to have an entrepreneurial mindset,” said Katherine Brandt-Narcisso.“We are bringing in several quality speakers. But it’s not just sitting and listening to speakers. We are taking them through all aspects of business and they will have a chance to exercise what they learn during group activities.”
The camp motto “the start of you” refers to the beginning of each person’s ownership of themselves as students and business owners, said Tim Cornelius, Vice President for Learning: Global Business, Health and Professions and External Programs at NWACC.
“We are more or less planting seeds with these kids. You never know when and where they will bloom, but you want to make sure to give them the right kind of nurturing along the way,” Cornelius added.
Northwest Arkansas is no stranger to small business success stories and it is no longer relative to just the tales of Sam Walton and Don Tyson.
There are a bevy of fresh faces cutting their own path through the Ozark hills, such as Nick Jones, owner of Lavish Longboards. The company has made a fast reputation for building quality skateboards in the Fayetteville area, spearheaded by Jones, who is the youngest keynote speaker at this week’s boot camp.
Many of Jones’ boards are made with reclaimed wood from local carpenters.
“I really enjoyed hearing (Jones) speak because he doesn’t seem like a corporate business guy and I don’t plan on being one either,” said camper Ramsey Jones. “It was neat hearing about a guy who didn’t take the typical road to success through a corporate structure, but was able to find success because of his strong mind-set.”
Local business are a big staple of the boot camp, with Lavish Longboards, Flying Burrito, Eureka Pizza and Iceberg Co-Working Center all taking part in the festivities. The ample access to local business owners will give the campers an opportunity to use their networking skills.
“For me the biggest factor in coming out here was to learn the right way to build a business,” said camper and recent Fayetteville High School graduate Hannah Fender. “I think the biggest benefit is the connections you can make during this camp. We have a great opportunity to talk to some very successful people in a small group setting, which is huge.”
While the boot camp doesn’t dish out harsh manual labor, the students are given homework assignments throughout the week. Group work is also handed out; and once divided into teams, the campers will have to come up with a solid business idea and present their plan to a panel of judges Thursday afternoon (June 28).
The winning team will earn cash and in-kind prizes during an awards luncheon at the culmination of the camp. The cash award amount has not yet been announced.
“The group presentation at the end of camp is a great chance for these kids to utilize the skills they pick up this week and it will be good experience presenting to a board of successful business owners - men and women,” Tanner said. “Not every person here is going to be an entrepreneur, but that isn’t the point.”
Tanner hopes to teach the “mindset” this week and help the students to know how to take the right steps along the way to find success in whatever endeavor they chose to follow.
He will head up another boot camp in the Oklahoma during the first week of July. With a solid turnout during its first year in Fayetteville, plans for an annual boot camp are already in place.