A few years ago 16-year-old Jeff Davies wanted to start a consumer buying guide for computer users. It would be based on levels of knowledge. That’s a niche no one had filled, said the Moses Lake High sophomore.
Despite months of planning, his idea never got off the ground.
Davies said local companies gave him the brushoff. His parents were worried about capital, time and money. Banks didn’t take him seriously.
“It’s hard to get banks to invest in kids. It’s just the aspect that you’re a kid. But we have good ideas,” said Davies, who holds two after-school jobs and wants to study network administration at Gonzaga or at Brigham Young University.
This week Davies was one of 1,000 students attending Washington Business Week, a summer camp at GU devoted to hand-on learning of business.
“If I would have had this when I wanted to start my business, I probably could have done it,” he said.
Various businesses sponsor the five one-week camps held around the state.
Business contributions subsidize most of the students’ room and board. Students pay $75 registration and there is no GPA requirement, said Steve Hyer, executive director of the Olympia-based program.
“Our goal is to make them better employers and better employees,” Hyer said. “Even if they will be working at McDonald’s flipping hamburgers, they will know what goes into the cost of a hamburger.”
Led by volunteers from such companies as Seafirst Bank, State Farm and PEMCO, students were assigned to 14-member companies.
CEOs were chosen and products selected, such as mini-disc CDs or pagers. Then teams decided how many risks they are willing to take.
Some allocated money to research and development. Some chose to spend more on marketing. Some slashed product prices.
And others filed bankruptcy.
“One company had to ask for emergency cash,” said Michael Rogers, a volunteer leader who works as a supplier development manager for Bellevue-based Paccar.
The 12-hour camp days are filled with motivational speeches, company meetings, role-playing interviews, product commercials and lectures on business concepts.
Dan Greany, from Spokane’s Hewlett-Packard plant, a seven-year camp volunteer, helped lead company ‘C’ - a conglomerate of three firms: Pageration, Untouchables, and KPDL - all selling pagers.
Two of the three made profits. Pageration was in the red.
“They’ve really learned about planning. You don’t just open a store and have people stumble into it,” he said. “But the biggest thing they’ve learned is that you can’t do it alone.”
From CEO to marketing director, students emphasized the need for teamwork. Some were amazed at how big of a risk starting a business really is.
Lacie West, a junior from Mercer Island, Washington, came to the camp because she wants to learn how to start her own environmental company. She says she never fully understood how big a risk her plans for making environmental products could be. But she said that won’t stop her.
She scoffs at adults who claim her generation is one of spenders and credit card debtors. “I don’t listen to them. I know in my heart I can do it.”
Her company colleague, Davies, agrees. He says his computer-only buyer guide is an ‘awesome’ idea and the need still hasn’t been filled.
“You don’t have to be a particular age to start a business,” he said. “With the resources they gave us, anyone could start a business after they leave here.”
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