- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Starting one’s own business and being an entrepreneur isn’t always easy but can be very rewarding. This is what students in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy are learning among other skills in the newly formed academy, the only one like it in the state, according to its organizers.
There are 11 students in the academy that meets weekly at North Point High School. They range in age from 12 to 18, and, according to instructor Darlene Breck, they are all there for the same reason: They want to be entrepreneurs.
The academy is a program that takes students from grades 6 to 12 through the process of starting and running a real business. The program is a partnership between the Charles County Chamber of Commerce and Charles County Public Schools.
Students work with business leaders to develop and cultivate their business ideas, write a plan and pitch those plans at the end of the course to an investment panel.
Breck said throughout the 20-week course they will be introduced to several business owners and learn about a range of businesses.
On Wednesday, the group met with Top Dollar Pawn and Jewelry owner Michael Cohen. Cohen recently opened a second shop in Waldorf. The first, Top Dollar Pawn, is in Oxon Hill. Cohen said he took over his father’s store but first went to New York City, where he lived for 10 years, and started two design firms. He told students the first firm failed, and the second one was successful. He said he later sold his portion of the successful firm to his two partners so he could come home and take over his father’s pawn shop.
He explained the basics behind his business, that customers come into the shop and either sell merchandise or get a loan. The average loan he said is $100, and a short-term loan is for 30 days. He said in going into a new business “look at it, and see what can be changed.”
In his case, he was able to take advantage of technologies that weren’t available when his father was running the store, such as communicating with customers via text messages, automated phone messages and email.
He also was able to get word out about his business through social media.
Breck pointed out that the store looked little like a typical pawn shop and more like a retail store. Cohen said that was another idea to bring in business by making the store more appealing. There also is a corner in the store where children can read and do activities.
One student asked Cohen how long it took to get the second store up and running.
He said the store opened 10 months ago, but the idea came about two years ago. It took a year to find a space that met pawn shop regulations and then a while to bring everything together.
Cohen said one key in opening a business is to use as many resources as possible and “make sure you surround yourself with people you trust.”
He said it’s important that the people they select “believe in your vision as much as you do.”
Another student asked Cohen if his store is as successful as he’d hoped.
Cohen said in some ways it is and in some ways it is not. The store did not make as much in 2013 as he would have liked, but, at the same time, due to the nature of his business, he knew things would turn around.
Cohen encouraged students to take educated risks while they are young.
He said one reason he wanted to start his own business was for the freedom it would allow him.
He said he worked 20 years to get to that point, but all the work was beneficial.
David Graham, 17, said visiting Cohen’s store and listening to his story was a good experience and was a good way for him and other students to learn firsthand what one needs to do to get started.
Graham said his father owns a business, and he would like to do the same. He said he is interested in the outdoors and would like his business to relate to nature. He said he feels the academy is something that could really help him get started.
Jordyn Boyd, 12, said she wants to start her own online store for “upcycled” clothes, or used clothing that has been turned into higher-quality clothing pieces.
She said the academy is teaching her how “not to say no to ideas and to be openminded.”
In a later interview, Breck said in the first session she and program manager Bekah Carmichael emphasized that “no idea is a dumb idea.”
Students also learned basic characteristics of an entrepreneur, such as being hardworking and motivated.
Boyd said she liked hearing from Cohen because he worked his way from the bottom and hadn’t always been successful.
She said she is a bit of a procrastinator and feels the academy will help her learn new skills to not procrastinate and how to better manage money.
Breck said by the end of the program, students will own their own businesses with fully operational websites and logos.
Cohen said his business will donate laptops to each student in support of their efforts.
Breck said 80 percent of the class has an idea ready. She said it’s exciting for her and Carmichael to be able to hear the ideas and help students expand on them.
Some ideas include party planning for preteens, a clothing website, a website for parents and children to read reviews of various things such as toys and games, and a pet-sitting business.