Student entrepreneurs take chance on success
Starting a business is a life-changing decision, so Hillsboro sophomore Emersyn Funk sees her business class as an opportunity to experiment with her love of graphic design.
“This has been a good experience getting to do something in the real world, even if we don’t end up being entrepreneurs,” she said. “We have a project, we’re responsible for this idea, and we have to follow it through.”
Participants in Hillsboro High School’s student-led businesses get to choose their own paths, with five small business that offer products like dog accessories to vinyl stickers.
Funk and fellow sophomore established Phire Designs, focusing on graphic design work through Photoshop.
“We knew there was a market for it and that it was something we’d come into class every day and enjoy,” she said.
Expenses such as production and resource costs are covered by Hillsboro school district, which is a big advantage for a small operation, Funk said.
“A lot of the overhead costs are taken care of by the school,” she said. “We don’t have to pay for much except the actual products we’re producing.”
The students pay back the school but keep any profit they make after that.
One group sells T-shirts and another creates vinyl stickers. Phire Designs took a broader approach.
The pair is looking at design work in general; trying to walk the line between maintaining flexibility and being spread too thin, Wichert said.
“Some of the challenges can be having too wide a range, spreading ourselves too thin and not getting as much business,” he said. “That can also be a pro because we’re able to do different things, being able to design a T-shirt for somebody or design a logo. That gives us more versatility.”
There were few limitations placed on students’ projects, Wichert said.
“There weren’t any restrictions on what we could do or what our business could be,” he said. “Mr. Hiebert put it out there that whatever we wanted to do, just do it. If you have a passion for it, do it.”
The students have to keep thorough records of their finances, Funk said.
“We thought in the beginning that we write down a number saying we bought something,” she said. “There’s a lot more going on behind that with balance sheets, and we’re responsible for all that. It was a lot more complicated than I thought.”
In addition to tracking revenues and expenses, students have to pitch their ideas to loan offices at Tampa State Bank Emprise Bank, which exemplifies the program’s community support, business teacher Nathan Hiebert said.
“We’re fortunate because Hillsboro has been supportive of this,” he said. “Not just our school system, but local businesses and our banks.”
It’s easy connecting on a personal level in a small town like Hillsboro, Funk said.
“I see a small population size as an advantage because it’s much easier for us to reach more people,” she said. “As smaller community, more people will talk about what we have, and we think word will spread.”
Another key to success is how well students exchange ideas.
The class is open about discussion between peers, but also with professionals, like the insurance agent and accountant who meet with students, Hiebert said.
“Those connections are huge as they move on,” he said. “That’s one of the things we’ve grown with, is not just talking about having people who are resources, but having some teams in place.”
Students have varying levels of dedication depending from year to year, and much of their success hinges on how well they develop a business model, Hiebert said.
“There’s a lot of freedom in it for the students, that it’s not the textbook chapter and do this multiple choice test,” he said. “This is your business, let’s create a plan. How successful you are is about how you approach that.”
Last modified Jan. 30, 2020