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Entrepreneur for a Day: Fifth graders delve into how to start a business

Brad Dahn, former owner of Park ACE Hardware, oversaw the two-hour workshop in Eric Hillesland's fifth grade class.1 / 3
David Collins leads Century fifth graders in a discussion about basic entrepreneurial concepts. He and other local business owners teamed up to launch the "Entrepreneur for a Day" program for area school. (Photos by Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)2 / 3
Facilitator Esther Simon holds up a frisbee -- a product that was launched in 1957 when it was discovered college students were tossing around empty pie tins from a nearby bakery. Every fifth grader received a frisbee as a prize. 3 / 3

Century Middle School fifth graders explored the fundamental principles of entrepreneurship during a two-day workshop this week.

The "Entrepreneur for a Day" (E4D) program was developed by the Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, which is based in Iowa. It's both an educational and economic development strategy designed to enable youth to successfully start their own enterprises.

"We bought the license to the program last year," explained David Collins, executive director of the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission. He's spearheading the entrepreneurship education effort.

The Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center is "trying to grow entrepreneurs, so they have this program for fifth graders, they have a business plan competition for middle school and a week-long boot camp during the summer. I've got sponsors that help cover the cost," Collins said. "So I've been trying to find some champions here. I picked the best of the crop."

He recruited lead E4D instructors, such as Brad Dahn, Esther Simon, Paul Utke, Carolyn Pfeifer and Stuart Larson.

This is the first year of the program at Park Rapids Schools. In the spring, they'll head to the Laporte School District.

"I think it's kind of exciting," Collins said.

One of E4D's goals is to get kids thinking about being a "job creator" versus a "job taker."

During the first day, trained facilitators visit the students' classroom to introduce terms and concepts of entrepreneurship, like "goods," "services," "supply and demand," "credit," "debit," cash flow statements, marketing tactics, business ethics and more.

At the end of the day, fifth graders shared personal essays which answered the question "If I could start any business with $1 million dollars, I would..."

Ideas ranged from robotech companies to babysitting services to a slime-making business.

"We have lots of really creative ideas," said teacher Julie Kelly. "We worked really hard on these."

Bill Gates is worth $40 billion, meaning he earns $20 million per hour, Larson told students.

"Gain the knowledge to be an entrepreneur so you can make money for yourself," urged Larson. "That's what we're talking about today."

Later in the week, fifth graders traveled to Bemidji State University where they chose a product, "borrowed money from a bank," "bought" resources, made the product (out of Playdoh), checked for "quality control," then "sold" the product and determined if they made a profit. They experience business planning, financial literacy, marketing concepts, workplace concepts, social responsibility and team-building skills.

"It's really fun to watch them the second full day when they start making their products," Collins said.

Their visit concluded with a 45-minute tour of the campus, which offers students a sense of campus life, diversity and validates college.

"So we hope to do this every year," Collins said.