Verlaine and Nour, two 13-year-old girls with hip, thick-rimmed glasses and skinny jeans, just got their first entrepreneurial reality check. Their brilliant idea — creating a stylish suitcase from refurbished materials — is not commercially viable.
"You know what one of the first things that happens with your suitcase when you go to the airport?" teacher Christopher Blunsdon asks the girls.
They respond with silence, the beginnings of defeat showing in their eyes.
"It gets weighed. This is really heavy," he said, lifting the lid of the would-be suitcase.
Blunsdon's lesson is a good demonstration of the challenge of innovation — trial and error, failure before success, finding a need and filling it with something that sells. His three Grade 8 classes from Memorial School will continue to learn these lessons the hard way.
They are involved in Entrepreneurial Adventure, a nationwide program run by the not-for-profit The Learning Partnership organization. The program gets students engaged in the creative process of starting a business in a hands-on way.
"This is a tangible thing that the kids can do and learn from," Blunsdon said. "It's always a challenge to get them to think creatively. But giving them a good opportunity? That works really well."
Not yet high school students, Verlaine and Nour are already learning what most entrepreneurs don't realize until they are through school and knee-deep in experimentation.
'The day for big factories is done. This is showing students there is another way in the world.'—Carol Scaini, Entrepreneurial Adventure'
Entrepreneurial Adventure partners classes with a local entrepreneur who will teach the pupils the ins and outs of building a successful business, marketing a product and selling it. At the end of the school year, the students will have made a little cash from the product they sell or the event they plan, and will donate it to a charity of their choice.
"It helps build important skills that aren't addressed in the curriculum for life work," said Carol Scaini, Entrepreneurial Adventure's program manager. "Innovation, collaboration, organizing business and giving back."
The program is its second year in Hamilton, but has been running across Canada for 17 years in Toronto, Calgary, Halifax, Fredericton and Ottawa. Scaini manages the Hamilton initiatives.
"We saw that in Hamilton [small business] is an area of growth for the city," she said. "The day for big factories is done. This is showing students there is another way in the world."
Looking for inspiration
In the case of Mr. Blunsdon's students, they'll be spending the next few months with Stephanie McLarty, CEO and president of REfficent, a Hamilton-based business-to-business marketplace for new or under-used comtech equipment.
This week, six of Blunsdon's students tour McLarty's warehouse for inspiration, looking for ideas for the products they'll create from repurposed materials.
"We want to build something out of stuff people don't use, and using it in a different way than people would originally use it," Verlaine said.
While she and Nour find a substitute for their suitcase idea, Victoria and Avery contemplate a children's game. Shane and Nolan have a furniture idea using large spools used for storing colourful cords that Shane said "will make millions."
"What I know from being a teacher is when kids create something, they are confident about it," said Scaini.
Confidence is something that's especially important to Blunsdon's students. Memorial School, one of eight schools participating in the program, is located in an east-end working-class neighbourhood.
"A lot of [these] kids will go to university and a lot of them won't," Blunsdon said. "They will find themselves in the trades and this will give them the skill set and the ideas to say, 'I'm going to be a mechanic, but maybe I'd like to start my own shop instead of working for someone else.'"
As a retired Hamilton principal, Sciani has seen this program work wonders despite how new it is to the city. She recalls a Dundas student who didn't make a connection with school until his class was involved in last year's program. But at presentation time, this student expertly laid out the business plan for his class's cafe.
"Innovation engages students," Scaini said. "Kids are creative beings."
In the aisle of goods in the REfficent warehouse, Verlaine and Nour show they already have the qualities of a good entrepreneur - persistence. Nour suggests a treasure chest and then a toy box.
"Now that's something I could use," Blunsdon said.
No silence from the girls anymore. They chat away between themselves, pondering their potential success.
Reporter Julia Chapman will follow Mr. Blunsdon's grade eight classes through their entrepreneurial adventure. Check back to CBC Hamilton periodically for updates on their progress and success.