A lot has changed since Mecklenburg High School students first started school.
In the beginning, they could walk freely in and out of buildings. Almost anyone could visit at any time. But, schools have had to take steps to increase student safety. Now students have to scan a badge to get in and out of buildings, while visitors must use a buzzer at the school entrance.
In a Biz Venture Entrepreneurship course being taught at Mecklenburg’s two high schools this year, students are creating their own businesses. Real businesses, with the opportunity for investment and growth beyond the classroom..
“We hope to make a difference,” says Noah, a junior at Park View High School. He and his team of fellow students think their particular business idea has the potential to save lives when the badges and buzzers fail.
“We have a security device that we’re going to install in schools and banks, high asset facilities,” explains Noah. A sheet of Kevlar®, would be bolted to the floor beneath doors and windows and could be pulled up to cover them like blinds. “That would make you fireproof, bulletproof, those sorts of things, but still give you access to get out when the building’s clear,” says Noah.
That’s one great idea out of many that have materialized in the Biz Venture classes. Although Christopher Clarke has been teaching business and marketing in Mecklenburg for ten years, this is the first year he’s taught the Biz Venture course. The course is an initiative of Virginia’s Growth Alliance (VGA) and funded through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
“This is a real class where there’s real money that’s going to be invested in ideas,” says Clarke. “It’s real world.”
Offered through Longwood University, the course is designed to have students create a viable product or service. Through a combination of online and in-person instruction, students are guided step-by-step from business idea, to market analysis, financial planning, marketing and, finally, developing a business plan. Students from Longwood University’s College of Business and Economics serve as online mentors to the high school students, providing one-on-one feedback.
At the end of the course, high school students will pitch their business ideas in a friendly Shark-Tank style competition. Judges will dole out $5,000 in investment money, but it will be highly competitive.
Teacher Sara Moore, of Bluestone High School has been blown away by her students’ creativity during the course. They have designed businesses around such concepts as a 24-hour affordable daycare center, a self-charging battery bought through a monthly subscription, a water powered smart car, a clothing boutique and a device which allows friends to share battery powers with each other’s cell phones.
“The real life aspect...actually having real money, real competition and being taught through a university, made it a lot different than other classes,” says Noah. “We have great teachers here, but this just takes it a step further.”
“The money makes me work harder,” says Trevor, another budding entrepreneur. “I pay attention to my GPA, but the money makes me more competitive.” Trevor will be pitching his idea for a smartphone app. “PicAFind” would be a reverse search engine, allowing users to take a picture and search for written information.
“The future of Southside Virginia depends on this. We’re going to need entrepreneurs to keep the area competitive with places like Richmond, northern Virginia and tidewater,” says Clarke, who is also a Clarksville councilman. “Small businesses are going to help Southside Virginia succeed. So, why not start early?”