By Clay Riness  

Sometimes kids can be inspirational. Such is the case with a small group of ambitious Kickapoo Middle School students in Viola who recently chose to become young entrepreneurs. The impetus behind the decision came in the form of a state grant through the Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) to help kids become entrepreneurs. The agency was created in 1848, the year Wisconsin became a state, and is part of the Department of Public Instruction.

Entrepreneur TeachersLast May, sixth- and seventh-grade English teacher Vicki Olsen received an email from CESA 3 (Fennimore), forwarded by the school superintendent, offering the grant. There was a hitch: She had to find teams on that same day. “So I had like one hour to pick teams. I knew some kids were interested in starting businesses, and I asked a few go-getters and they said, ‘Sure, yeah.’

So, we signed up and went down there. We got some training on business plans and stuff like that, and they told us about the program,” she explains. “The second time we went there, each kid or team received a $500 Visa card to start their businesses. According to the program, each business will have to show $1000 in revenue, not profit, just revenue by a certain deadline. Then, they’ll move on to a ‘Shark Tank.’”

The kids dove in, and for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was hard work, Olsen says they were way ahead of kids from other schools when they met with CESA some months later. She also admits that even though the program was started on a whim, it has blown everyone away.

At a certain point Olsen began feeling overwhelmed with her duties and asked middle school math teacher James Martin if he
would get involved, suggesting they work together and that he be the main contact person and take the kids to their meetings. He enthusiastically agreed.

Their next meeting with CESA is Feb. 5. April 1 is the deadline to sell $1000 worth of product, and May 3 is the “Shark Tank” ending.

From the Minds of Youth

EntrepreneursEach of these four businesses is unique unto itself. One entrepreneur, 13-year-old seventh-grader Evelyn Hajzl, is making custom pens. Her business is called Writing in Style. “My dad, when he was in high school and college, was into making pens, and he kept all of the equipment. So, when we were told we had to start up a business, we thought that would be fun,” she says. “We just work out of my house. We buy the metal kits and refills, and various materials such as acrylics in 40-inch rods and exotic woods in cubes, and turn them on a lathe to size and shape them. Then we assemble them.” 

Evelyn has a partner, 12-year-old seventh-grader Dane Olsen (Vicki’s son), who has moved into sales. He gets a commission for each sale. The pens originally sold for $17 but became so popular that the price was raised to $20. It’s clear that they will reach their goal by deadline. 

Another young entrepreneur, 12-year-old seventh-grader Lauryn Sumwalt, took a different path. She makes slime party kits, which seem to be all the rage. She calls her business Slime Essentials. “We use glue, baking soda, contact solution; those are the main ingredients,” she says, adding, “We also use other things to make it prettier, so I have beads and glitter and food coloring, too. The kits sell for $21.95. They sell better during the school year.”

As if the first two businesses weren’t different enough from each other, consider 12-year-old seventh-grader Jace Dean’s enterprise. His niche, DNA Hydrographics, is a water transfer print and hydro dipping business. He explains, “You take a certain type of film and put it on water and then dip an item in it, then the film appears on the item. My initial partner (who has since dropped out) and I saw some videos online of people doing it, like, dipping basketballs and stuff, so we wanted to do it and that’s how it came to be.”

Jace’s business suffered a considerable setback due to the recent floods. “The film can’t get wet. Water seeped in through the ceiling of our house and all of my film was ruined, and it’s super expensive. But, I made a contingency plan and now I’m selling again.”

In a more traditional take, 13-year-old eighth-graders Maddie Montgomery, Jayla Nagel and Helen Clements decided to grow and sell flowers, calling their business Moxie Buds Creations, which can be found online at “Our original idea wasn’t going to be flowers,” admits Helen. “We had a lot of initial thoughts on what we should do, but we eventually thought flowers would be the best option for where we live.”

The girls had some trouble cultivating the seeds they acquired, and then decided to purchase flowers wholesale and by auction. Flowers being flowers, and a part of our cultural fabric, the girls will also reach the goal by deadline.

When asked if they are having fun, the students unanimously and enthusiastically respond, “YES.”

It’s clear that the program is a character-building experience. Kids learn critical thinking, experience the setbacks and victories life must offer up, learn about business and marketing, and so much more. And, yes, these kids are indeed inspiring. Perhaps Vicki Olsen says it best: “I first called them future entrepreneurs, but then I thought … we need to change the name. You guys are just entrepreneurs.”

For more information, contact Vicki Olsen at