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Skidmore College

Small business incubators?

July 6, 2016

"How do I spell entrepreneurship?" asked a local fifth-grader during a school visit by Skidmore business majors. But the meaning rather than the spelling was the main focus for Professor Caroline D'Abate and students in their debut as Skidmore Business Ambassadors.

A new way for business majors to give back to the Saratoga-area community, this first ambassadors' outreach centered on the school’s annual Entrepreneur Fair and was organized by three fifth-grade teachers. For each fair, fifth-graders develop business plans, advertise to the school community, and purvey goods or services to raise money for a good cause. Families donate money for their grade-schoolers to prepurchase tickets, so that no cash is needed when the younger classes and staff members visit the fair as customers.  

Having seen previous fifth-graders at work, each new class is eager for its turn. This year, with supply investments capped at $10, ideas for businesses included emoji cookies, brownies, nail painting, a photo booth, face painting, and stress balls.

Fifth-grader Carly Fay works with Skidmore's Meghan Wojtkiewicz '16.
Fifth-grader Carly Fay works with
Skidmore’s Meghan Wojtkiewicz ’16.

What the Skidmore ambassadors brought to the table was new learning and best practices. Tenley Masson '17, Kate Shepard '16, and Meg Wojtkiewicz '16, who had met in Professor Cathy Hill's "Entrepreneurship and Small Business" course, now worked with Hill and D’Abate to teach basic business concepts to 10- and 11-year-olds. They told nearly 70 fifth-graders about "design thinking" and the four Ps of marketing: product, price, place, and promotion. They discussed businesses started by Skidmore students and demonstrated, through a simple exercise on how to make toast, that many things aren’t as simple as you'd think.

Next the pupils worked in small groups, under the guidance of D'Abate and the Skidmore students, on what to name their product or service, visualizing its packaging and promotion, the concept of value and how many tickets to charge, and how to get ready for the day of Entrepreneur Fair.

"Not only were they polite and fun to interact with; they were knowledgeable and creative,"  D'Abate reports. Shepard was impressed by their use of business terms such as "inventory." Masson was "amazed at their innovative ideas. They really seemed to grasp the concepts we taught them and were able to think independently about the subject matter."

With the ambassadors' help, teacher Denise Harrington says, the fair was "a huge success" for the budding entrepreneurs and their customers, and it raised $1,800 toward home modifications for two local teenagers with disabilities.

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