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Valley Tech, Avista extend entrepreneurship program to high schoolers

Central Valley School District is partnering with Avista Corp. to teach and encourage budding business owners.

An entrepreneurship program offered for the first time to high school students through Spokane Valley Tech is designed to teach the basics of business with an end goal of a business plan. It starts Thursday.

“Kids come to us with creativity,” said Susan Christenson, the district’s Career and Technical Education director. “This gives them a way to channel it.”

The program, which is open on a space-available basis to any high school student in Spokane County, expands a network of entrepreneurial education programs Avista has helped establish or sponsor at community colleges in a tri-state region.

Spokane Community College started the first program in 2007. The course was so successful the utility company asked to share the curriculum with other community colleges in Oregon and Idaho. The program is now offered at North Idaho College, Walla Walla Community College’s Clarkston branch and Rogue Community College in Medford, Ore.

Avista wanted to grow the program. So, impressed by high school students who entered Avista’s Inland NW Business Plan competition in 2012, officials approached Spokane Valley Tech last fall.

“One of the things that made this attractive to us was this program would be open to any (high school) student in the region,” said Steve Trabun, Avista’s regional business manager. “Teaching this program to students at this time can teach them skills they carry with them for life.”

The program is 454 hours of instruction, school officials said. Classes are 8-10:30 a.m. or 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., and there’s space for 18 students in each class. Courses include business operations, law, fiscal planning, pricing, impact of economic growth and understanding financial markets.

“They’re immersed in something that they love for 2 ½ hours a day,” said Scott Oakshott, Spokane Valley Tech’s director.

Some courses in the program are eligible for college credit.

Additionally, two students per year who complete the program will be eligible for a $15,000 loan from Avista to start a business. The student must have a viable business plan and will be evaluated before receiving the five-year loan.

Patrick Bisson, the entrepreneurship teacher, said the key is getting people from the community involved. Lined up so far are Spokane Community College employees, Avista employees and members of both the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce and Greater Spokane Incorporated.

“People who had been in the arena who came back to teach inspired me,” said Bisson, who started his own business office beverage service. Those “are people who are experts in their field.”