News Column

Jersey Teens Get Taste of Business World

Aug. 8, 2013

The next Steve Jobs or Meg Whitman may come out of North Jersey.

Last month, the Foundation for Free Enterprise brought together some of the region's emerging teenage business minds as part of its annual summer business camp.

The camp, held at Ramapo College in Mahwah from July 22-26, was started 30 years ago to offer local teens a chance to learn more about what it takes to be an entrepreneur, said Kathryn English, president of the Paramus-based Foundation for Free Enterprise.

Each year, recommended students from local high schools are brought to the college for the business camp and stay on the campus for the week.

"We give the students an idea of what you need to know to go into the business world," English said. "The kids learn about business through the eyes of local entrepreneurs."

About 100 students participated in hands-on learning exercises, talked to local executives and worked in teams to develop a business plan that could stand the test of a team of judges.

"We try to have different fun ideas," English said. "We had a scavenger hunt instead of having lectures ... we had a dinner where students could talk directly to executives; for students who don't have ideas of what they want to do after high school, it can give them direction."

Jason Friedman, a member of the foundation's board of trustees, said the camp allows students to learn leadership, management skills and collaboration _ all of which are essential for advancing in a business setting.

"It's not a sit-in-a-classroom kind of experience," Friedman said. "What we look for is awareness in each student and hope we can ignite the entrepreneurship in each of them that can inspire them to look for new opportunities."

In addition to the various events throughout the week, the camp's main contest was to develop a business plan for a company from a list of industries. The students, who ranged in age from 14 to 18, competed against one another in the business-themed scavenger hunt to get first choice in the list of industries that included event planning, automotive, restaurants and education.

Friedman said the scavenger hunt is timed, and as a team the students would have to learn about risk-reward situations and taking chances to amass as much information as possible. The winning team was then able to not only choose their industry, but also decide the order in which the other teams present their ideas.

After developing their plans, the teams of students were judged by a panel of executives and Foundation for Free Enterprise board members that rated each plan on viability, financial stability and uniqueness to specific industry.

This year, the winning students developed a plan for a company called Last Minute Productions, which would step in at the last second to help plan a party should unexpected problems arise.

"They came up with a problem in the industry they chose, they looked at it and thought of a solution that was uniquely suited to solve a big problem," Friedman said. "It was really smart."

English said that each year, students _ who are selected after being recommended by guidance counselors and teachers from high schools such as Northern Highlands, Bergen County Academies in Hackensack and others around the state leave the camp with knowledge they can use to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors in the future, but also have an opportunity to discuss their plans and goals with a number of executives.

This year, 16 executives from banks, lending offices and large corporations in the area _ including United Water, Columbia Bank, Hackensack University Medical Center and board members of the Foundation for Free Enterprise - sat with the students during a dinner to talk about their experiences and give the budding entrepreneurs advice as members of the business world.

Todd Malkin, a special assets officer at Columbia Bank in Fair Lawn, spoke at the camp this year for the second time. Malkin said the students' willingness to learn and their interest in the topics presented to them makes the camp a unique experience.

"It's exciting to see how the students have a desire to see what it takes to succeed," Malkin said. "They were enthusiastic, focused on their projects and were willing to ask questions. The students wanted to learn, and that's fantastic. I wanted to help them succeed."

Source: (c)2013 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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