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4-H teaches future business owners the ropes

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

The economy picked up a bit recently in two Georgia counties, where 10 new businesses opened their doors. All 10 business owners are too young to own homes or drive cars.

The young entrepreneurs all got their start as participants in "Get Ready, Get Set, Start Your Own Business," a program offered by their county Extension Service offices' 4-H program and funded by Jones County Family Connection.

The program was open to sixth- through eighth-graders from Jones and Jasper counties. It began last October, when the students studied the success of Chick-fil-A Founder Truett Cathy.

Created businesses based on their talents

"The students used a survey to determine what businesses are needed in the area," said Diane Sumner, Jasper and Jones counties' Extension 4-H agent. "Then they looked at their personal skills and talents before deciding on a business to start."

Sumner said her goal was to make the program fun while teaching the students important skills they can use for a lifetime. The students had to set goals for their businesses, develop marketing and business plans and determine what they would do with their profits.

The program also taught the students how to estimate supplies and labor costs before setting a price on their wares.

"The program actually had funds available to loan the students for use in starting up their businesses," Sumner said. "The idea was for them to borrow the money, and then learn about loans and how to pay them back."

They turned down start-up loans

None of the students opted to borrow money to start their businesses. At least not from the 4-H program.

"A team of sisters, Brittny and Mariah Smith, borrowed money from their mother to start their basket-making business, BriMar Creations," Sumner said. "Theirs ended up being one of the most profitable student businesses, even after paying back their start-up loan."

The student businesses established through the program were diverse:

* Daniel Peterson and Zeke Marzigliano started Dixie Woodworking, creating handcrafted bluebird houses.

* Amelia Thomaston began Desserts in a Jar.

* Dana Sires created Dana's Pillow Cottage.

* Charity Daniel launched Charity's Creations, specializing in cloth jewelry pouches, shoe bags and other items.

* Rebecca Bean began her own cattle-raising company, Over the Moon Cattle.

* Katie Amos created Candles by Katie.

* Stephen Daniel founded Stephen's Benches, Birdhouses and Bookcases.

* Carrie Howell started Confetti Candles.

* Leslie Peterson unveiled Udderly Adorable Gifts, bath products made from goats' milk.

* Colton Strawn produced Professional Printing.

* Holly Ellington opened Hollie's Hobbies.

* And Kelsey Matthews started her own house-cleaning business.

The students marketed their products to their teachers, their parents' co-workers and their church friends.

"Two of the girls are selling their product through their Mom's home business," said Sumner. "They also have rented booths and craft fairs."

The future meets the present

The young entrepreneurs ended the program with a reception to introduce the new businesses to area business leaders.

"The hardest part for many of these students was meeting and talking with the adult business leaders," Sumner said. "They really had to psyche themselves up to shake hands and make eye contact."

Sumner said she was pleased to see how much the students learned in addition to the main points of running a business.

"They learned how to set goals and to stick with it until their goals were accomplished," she said. "They also learned to present themselves as professionals, a skill that should serve them well as they enter the work force in a few years."

As the program ended, the students all left with a little more money in their pockets than when the program began. Sumner came away with pride in her students' accomplishments.

"When one of the young men arrived at the reception in a suit and tie, I was so proud," said Sumner. "You never know what an activity like this will do for a child down the road. Even if they never go into business, the life skills they learned will stay with them into adulthood."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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