Children can be like any other small business owner. The girl who teaches maths or the boy who washes cars and mows lawns on weekends isn’t just looking for pocket money. They learn to implement and implement their own ideas, overcome failures, budget, market and build self-confidence.
Florida 4-H is offering a free virtual entrepreneurship program and competition for kids in Florida that began March 22nd.
The program, called Gator Pit, consists of a series of classes, mentoring, and pitching practices designed to help high schoolers develop their own business ideas. There is a competition where the best business plans will win prizes of $ 1,000 for first place, $ 350 for second place, and $ 250 for third place.
Anyone between the ages of 14 and 18 can register for the program and competition online as an individual or group at thegatorpit.com, even though the first class has already started. You need to register with Florida 4-H, which normally costs $ 20 but is free for Gator Pit.
According to Vanessa Spero, a regionally specialized 4-H extension agent for the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida, only six children have joined so far, and there is room for about 20.
“We’re really trying to teach kids workforce preparation skills. Whatever they end up doing, it’ll help them wherever they land in an adult career,” said Spero. “Most of the time, the kids come up and have an idea. But they haven’t let anyone ask the right questions.”
This is the fifth year in a row and the second year in a row that Gator Pit has been online, she said. It is funded in part by grants through the Florida Afterschool Network and sponsorships from partners in Birdseed and Tkiba, Florida, whose owners act as program mentors.
According to Spero, it has four main sections spread out through June:
• Training on Mondays and Thursdays from 4pm to 5pm until the first week of April.
• Open discussions with mentors every Thursday from 4pm to 5pm from the second week of April.
• Pitch training every Thursday from 4pm to 5pm in May.
• The contest, with entries by June 1st and winners announced later in the month.
Program participants don’t have to enter the competition, she said, but for those who do, applying is just a basic filter to ensure kids have put time and thought into their ideas. Everyone whose application is accepted will then submit a video of their business for the judges to watch and play during the awards ceremony.
“We found that they are learning to solve problems in order to find solutions to their ideas. Take the next step instead of throwing in the towel or giving up. And with our support they are doing it,” said Spero. “Resilience is absolutely necessary. These are the things that children should learn and deal with.”
Even after the program ends in June, the young people involved can turn to their mentors for help as they apply Gator Pit’s advice to their businesses in real life, she said. You can also come back next year and show your progress showing what Spero said she and the partners love.
“They have access to someone who can really help them as much as they want,” she said. “It’s exciting to see.”
Kalin Siegel, 20, joined Gator Pit when she started her art business, Summer Snaps Photography, in 2016.
Photography runs in her family, starting with her great-great-grandfather who took portraits, she said. She has been keeping memories and special moments with a camera since she was 5 years old.
Siegel said Gator Pit encouraged her to expand her business beyond starting animal and wildlife photography to include human imagery like engagement and newborn photography. In 2017 she returned for a second year with the new and improved Summer Snaps Photography. She looked forward to showing her growth and thanking the judges for their guidance.
In both years she won second place in the competition. Siegel is now preparing to begin the Santa Fe College nursing program in January. She continues to work on her business on the side.
“It was an amazing experience. Entrepreneurship is an important part of our economy now and in the future. So it’s great to see them encouraging teenagers and children at a young age to learn about it,” she said. “When someone has that much confidence in you, it’s really encouraging to keep going.”
Spero said Gator Pit hopes to attract more attendees across the country in the years to come, eventually including middle school kids, and partnering with local chambers of commerce to encourage better competition for children and opportunities for their personal and professional growth.
“Our ultimate goal is to get more community buy-in,” she said. “The sky is the limit and where we would like to go.”