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Sometimes, beginnings can be more difficult than endings. This is especially true for those looking to make their way into the massive world of entrepreneurship. From learning basic economics to figuring out how to advertise a brand, it is no surprise many up-and-coming pioneers find themselves trapped in the “how’s” of opening a business. Yet for teenage entrepreneurs in Franklin County, Illinois, a program designed specifically for beginners gives newcomers a chance to enter the world of business with the aid of an experienced, helping hand.

“My dad was an entrepreneur and started his own business,” says EDGE alumni Carson Webb, “I wanted to start my own journey in the same way he did.”

An EDGE for Teen Entrepreneurs

Edge students during lecture (September 2018)
Edge students during lecture (September 2018)

Started by a group of community leaders, EDGE (entrepreneurial, development, growth, education) is a leadership development program where high schoolers in the Franklin county area have the chance to vision, develop, and launch their own businesses alongside other peers as well as mentors.

“Leaders in the county wanted to see an investment and development in students in Franklin county. They wanted students to make a strong connection with businesses and leaders in the county giving them an opportunity to make an impact,” says Lee Messersmith. Messersmith serves as EDGE’s facilitator and on the Board of Directors in Franklin county.

How EDGE works

The original facilitators of EDGE created the program to be run similar to a class yet much more formal. The class would meet Monday – Friday from 7:45am – 9am and the participants would be dressed in business casual attire. The course was facilitated through various local high schools and thus earned not only secondary credit but college credit as well. To get involved, the students had to apply through their school’s guidance counselor. From there, the Board of Directors would interview each applicant and select each year’s class, which typically had around 10 students. This year, EDGE has made a post-pandemic comeback with six students enrolled for the 2021-2022 year.

“We would work on class projects, have lectures, and visit all sorts of local businesses in Franklin County,” says Messersmith. There were also tons of fundraising opportunities as well as a big trade show in the Spring and EDGE fest where students put on a festival. But the big talk of the class is the chance to start your own business and write manuals.

Webb started his business “Webby’s Wraps” where he offered a variety of services including vehicle wraps, stickers, banners, and signs. “I started this business because there was nobody that specialized in these categories all together and I felt I could offer these services at a budget friendly value as well.”

High School Entrepreneur Programs

BETA Camp teen entrepreneurship program
BETA Camp teen entrepreneur program

But nationally, not everything is budget friendly. When doing research for this article, I noticed that the results for “high school entrepreneurial programs” are those that come with expenses. Betacamp.com agrees that it is “difficult to find high school extracurricular programs that allow you to be able to build and learn critical entrepreneurship skills.” However, their program (like many others) isn’t suited for those with financial restraint. Small town schools often find themselves in financially tight situations; often cutting programs like the arts and offering little to no critical experience for their students. The good news is that high schools could invest in programs such as EDGE and give less privileged students an edge in business. Benton consolidated high school was one such small high school that went ahead with the program.

Webb and other EDGE students at their first event (July 2018)  
Webb and other EDGE students at their first event (July 2018)  

The benefits to these programs are much more substantial than just being cost effective. Messersmith states that students made “All kinds of connections. Some will be in their area of interests. Some will be with community leaders or business owners in other industries.” Webb personally made several professional connections as well as life-long friends. EDGE also changed an important aspect of Webb’s life. “When I was a kid, I was terrified of any social interaction,” he says. “Being part of this program really broke me out of my introverted shell and helped me blossom as a person. It taught me to develop my mindset and take on any challenges head on.” Messersmith also praises how the program teaches students professional and personal leadership development, and development of the self and further leadership abilities.

So, what’s the takeaway? Well, small schools have a lot more power than they think, power that comes from empowering their students through investing into programs like EDGE. EDGE certainly changed Webb’s and Messermith’s lives; imagine how much more fortunate young business idealists from LA to NYC could be if schools invested in such programs. Messersmith says it best: “My favorite part was getting a whole school year to pour into a group of students to help them gain a bigger world view than they currently have and give them the tools to be successful in that world.”

EDGE teen entrepreneurship class of 2018-2019
EDGE teen entrepreneurship class of 2018-2019

Small-schools should invest in programs like EDGE. You never know if out of that tiny group of 10 or less, you might have the next Elon Musk.

Do you know of any other high school entrepreneur programs? Let us know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.