Lakeville first in state to offer ‘Shark Tank’ for kids

Young Entrepreneurs Academy starts in fall for sixth- to eighth-graders

Lakeville middle school students will have an unprecedented opportunity next year to start and grow their own business.

The Lakeville Chamber of Commerce, working with the Lakeville Area School District, will offer Minnesota’s first Young Entrepreneurs Academy next year, a groundbreaking program that takes students through the process of starting and running a real business.

Chamber President Todd Bornhauser said if the program is successful, it will continue next year and may eventually expand.

Next fall, interested students in grades 6-8 attending Lakeville schools, All Saints Catholic School and Christian Life School will be invited to apply for the academy.

Bornhauser said homeschoolers are also invited to apply by contacting the chamber in the fall at 952-469-2020.

Up to 24 students will be selected to join the academy, which will meet at a Lakeville middle school to be determined for three hours weekly after school October through June.

Students will take field trips and meet with professionals like attorneys, accountants, bankers and publicists to develop a business or social movement.

Working individually or in a group, they will write a business plan, explore marketing strategies then pitch their idea to an investor panel of Lakeville-area business and community leaders to obtain funding to launch their business.

“This would be the first of its kind in Minnesota,” said Bornhauser, the driving force behind the program who described the opportunity as “Shark Tank” meets “The Apprentice.”

Investor panel members include Glenn Starfield, owner of Express Employment Professionals and a member of the Lakeville Economic Development Commission.

Starfield said the program is a neat opportunity for students who may have untapped creative and entrepreneurial talent.

“This is just a new opportunity for kids to get involved in something who maybe don’t play sports or have a fit in other areas,” Starfield said.

He credited Bornhauser for taking the initiative to bring the Young Entrepreneurs Academy to Minnesota.

“Todd just jumped into this thing,” Starfield said. “He’s got a very, very full plate, but he still said we’ve got to do this. I like his can-do attitude, and the chamber’s willingness to partner with the schools. It’s good for the community.”

Karen Wentworth, a chamber board member and administrative services manager with Hobo Inc., a Lakeville chemical formulating and manufacturing company, said the academy offers the chamber a new way to interact with students that it does not often have opportunity to reach.

“Most of what we do in the schools is geared toward high school,” Wentworth said. “This targets middle schoolers and gets those kids thinking about business and entrepreneurship earlier.”

Bornhauser said in other states, Young Entrepreneurs Academy inventions have included a new kind of earphones, gourmet peanut butter with chocolate and a customized beaded bracelets business.

Student business plans will have the opportunity to take off in Minnesota as well.

“The goal is for them to actually take those dollars and move forward with their business venture,” Bornhauser said.

Through a partnership with the Lakeville Schools, the chamber will manage the program, provide a program manager and instructors and coordinate business speakers, mentors, field trip hosts and judges for the competition.

Lakeville Schools will supply classroom and computer lab access and space for events that include a CEO roundtable, trade show and graduation ceremony.

Lakeville Schools Superintendent Lisa Snyder said she was immediately interested in the program when Bornhauser proposed it because it builds the kinds of skills young people will need to be aligned in the globally competitive workplace.

She said parents should encourage their children to apply because it will allow them to cultivate their own passions, learn high-level skills and help them build confidence in their ideas.

“I think it’s going to teach us many lessons,” Snyder said. “It will unleash students’ creativity, enthusiasm and passion, and we will see the caliber of work proposals and ideas that come from students.”

She added some of that real-live learning that takes place may be integrated into the middle-level curriculum.

She said the academy will remain an after-school club and would not become a class.

Bornhauser said he hopes the program has a lasting, positive impact on Lakeville.

“I’m hoping that we will be involved with 24 people who are coming back to this community and opening businesses in Lakeville and employing hundreds of people here in this community,” he said. “That would be our goal: developing that next set of business leaders.”

Business sponsors so far include Dakota Electric and Ratzlaff Homes, and more are needed. Interested business representatives are asked to contact the chamber at 952-469-2020 for more information.