Students all business in young entrepreneurs program

NANAIMO - An entrepreneurial program for students is a big sell amongst elementary schools.

Tim Holyk

Forget shoebox dioramas and Heads Up, Seven Up – these days, elementary students in Nanaimo are learning business sense and earning cents.

PowerPlay Young Entrepreneurs is a six-week, dynamic school-based program which takes classes through the process of planning, creating and marketing a product of their choosing, and promoting community by giving some of the proceeds back to charity.

This year, two classes at Rutherford and Forest Park elementary schools are participating in the program. The Grade 6 and 7 students at Rutherford held their product showcase Feb. 20, while Grade 4 and 5 at Forest Park have just begun the planning process and will hold their event April 16.

As part of the program, each student creates their own business plan for a product they wish to sell, such as decorated candles, homemade cards or feather earrings. The plan must take into account financial information such as the cost of materials and how much product needs to be sold in order to make a profit.

They even survey their fellow students to find out what kind of products they might buy. The student then sign a business loan contract with the ‘bank’ (a parent or guardian) before going to work on producing the product.

“It teaches them a lot of basic business skills,” said Burt Kirby, Grade 4 teacher at Forest Park. “It also teaches them so many things about money – they tend to think all the money that comes in is theirs to spend but you have to tell them there’s a loan that’s involved, you have to pay back the loan.”

The students then come together to plan a product showcase fair, where the entrepreneurs put out their products to sell to their fellow schoolmates. In addition to marketing the showcase event, the students also collaborate on what percentage of the profits to give to charity, and decide on a charity.

Proceeds from Rutherford Elementary will be split between the Ronald McDonald House, SPCA and KIVA, a non-profit society which connects the average joe to entrepreneurs in impoverished communities. People can send a loan of as little as $25 to help entrepreneurs get their business ideas off the ground.

“I thought this was a way to give back to the business community in other countries,” said Nicolette Zuydervelt, a Rutherford Elementary teacher.

The students at Forest Park have yet to choose their charity, but the Children’s Hospital is a strong contender, said Kirby. In the five years the school has participated in the program, they have also donated to the Nanaimo and District SPCA and Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Zuydervelt said the response has been  positive the two years they have participated in the program.

“We are the guides, but the actual work they have done themselves,” she said. “They have learnt so much about how to set goals, how to research products, marketing techniques, perseverance and dedication.”

During the Rutherford fair, parents and students attending as customers had a plethora of items to choose from, from lip scrub and hand warmers to flubber.

Grade 7 student Tim Holyk, 12, had sold out of his mini hockey sticks half way through the fair and was taking down orders for more.

“It has been very exciting,” he said. “We got to learn how to make money and sell stuff, and also get people’s attention.”

Catching the attention of investors will be important for Holyk, who is hoping for a career as a pro athlete.

Niamh Murphy, a 13-year-old Grade 7 student also had great success with her picture frame business. She said she found the program both exciting and helpful.

“It will help me if I ever decide to start my own business; help me choose what to do and how to do it.”

PowerPlay Young Entrepreneurs is offered by PowerPlay Strategies Inc. and sponsored by Coastal Community Credit Union. To find out more about the program, please visit

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