Students, entrepreneurs connect for real-life education

Each week, a class of high school students takes a short walk across the parking lot and enters a place where their classroom learning takes on real-world meaning.

This is the Entrepreneurial Mindset course at New Technology High School, and for the next hour or so, their instructor will be a small business owner at Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship.

After a short introduction and explanation for how the entrepreneur started a business, the questions start flowing.

“Did you do any types of internships?”

“How do you quit your job on good terms?”

“What advice about business would you have for someone in high school?”

The seniors in Kellie Schultz’s course will do this for 18 weeks, including visits to 1 Million Cups when it’s hosted at Zeal. “They’re finding out what makes entrepreneurs tick. It’s been really fun to watch,” Schultz said. This is the third semester she has brought students to Zeal, and the largest class yet.

Beimnet Zerafa signed up with an eye toward a career in fashion design. “I’m really interested in the creative field – art or anything design-oriented,” she said. “I would like to have my own brand. That would be my ultimate goal, but I know have to take smaller steps.”

Even as a high school senior, her classmate Nick Boehmer is no stranger to Zeal. He interned with Zeal client Andy Jorgensen, owner of Fire Brother Fireworks and just took a job with him helping with client work including website management.

“I would like to go on to do my own business, whether it be selling or providing a service, so I think having the background and knowledge the mindset of an entrepreneur will help a lot,” he said.

The students rave about the access they receive to Sioux Falls-area business owners at Zeal.

“When we had 1 Million Cups, there were tons of entrepreneurs,” Boehmer said. “When they wrapped up the event, I stuck around and talked to them and it’s just a good community of entrepreneurs to talk to.”

Zerafa initially thought the weekly visits would feel more like a presentation, but it quickly became a dialogue.

“The more we got to talk to them, it felt more personal,” she said. “The questions we’re asking aren’t just for entrepreneurship, because as a class we understand not every student wants to pursue that, but we’re picking their brains on their struggles or life lessons.”

The entrepreneurs have been candid and honest with the students, Schultz said, which has been beneficial.

“They see that failure is OK and not everything goes exactly as planned and sometimes it’s a weird and messy trail to get where they want to be, whether it’s to own a business or have a career. They see it takes perseverance and grit.”

Both students agree their connection with Zeal has shown them it’s possible to build their own successful business without leaving Sioux Falls.

“It was a perfect match for the class we’re taking,” Zerafa said. “Each week it helps us understand what the business world is like and helps us hone skills for the future.”

Zeal’s 1 Million Cups presentations are open to the public. Look for them the last Wednesday of each month at 9 a.m. For details, click here. https://www.facebook.com/pg/1MillionCupsSF/events/


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