Eleven-year-old John Robideaux is set on making his first million.
Even though the Cataldo Catholic School sixth-grader hasn’t reached puberty, he’s readying himself to take over his parents’ Spokane advertising company, Robideaux Warner.
Robideaux is one of about 20 students who just completed a two-week entrepreneurship class at Spokane Falls Community College’s Youth College, a summer program for more than 200 students 9 to 13 years old.
While the students were learning how to make money, they also learned about charity.
They spent the last two weeks selling candy to raise money for Crosswalk, a shelter for street kids. They dedicated the work to the memory of Rachel Carver, a 9-year-old Spokane girl who recently was murdered.
In addition to selling M&Ms; and Snickers candy bars from building to building on the SFCC campus and in their own neighborhoods, the students spent classroom time learning theories of entrepreneurship.
Instructor Ram Gopal says the best lessons are learned through hands-on experience.
“I’m teaching them to profit with care and profit with share,” Gopal said. “In reality, part of the profit needs to be part of the community. In reality, sometimes you sit for hours and get no business. That’s something you can never get in a class.”
Gopal has been teaching the summer class for youths for the past three years. He also teaches in SFCC’s Business Division during the school year.
He’s learned a lesson himself from teaching younger students.
“You need a lot of patience, trust, and sometimes you have to bribe them to keep quiet,” said Gopal. “I promised if they have good behavior and good profit, we’d have a pizza party on the last day.”
The students learned the basic four P’s of running a business: planning, product, pricing and promotion.
They also learned creative ways to sell sweets. Mac Kenny, 12, danced with a customer while holding a Kit Kat bar, singing the “give me a break” jingle.
Danny Causey, 11, and Steve Horvat, 12, raised $40 together in donations in the first week.
Causey said the secret is courtesy, kindness and persistence.
“If they want to ignore you, you kind of have to get in their face,” he said.
It’s also important to know the customer, Kenny said.
“The best place to catch people is by the cash machine,” he said.
That idea sparked Causey and Horvat to scurry to an on-campus automatic teller, where they sold a woman a package of Oreos.
It’s that type of aggressive selling that helped the students earn $500 the first week.
Gopal said that much of the motivation comes in the name of Rachel Carver, a constant point of focus.
“I tell them, ‘What is your goal? Rachel, Crosswalk. We’ve got to sell as much as possible,”’ Gopal said.
Donating their profits gives students a sense that they can make a difference, Gopal said.
Aside from not eating all the inventory, that seems to be the most important message.
“The thing about selling is you want to keep it all for yourself, but you can’t do that because it doesn’t help anybody,” said Nick Wetzel, 12.
The next session starts two weeks from Monday, when Gopal will teach a new batch of students entrepreneurship and charity by way of car washes.
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