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Kearney camp teaches entrepreneurship to young students

In the last 14 years, Janita Pavelka has seen her four children start 36 businesses in her home near Holdrege.

From lemonade stands and popcorn sales to cheese distribution and online sales, she’s seen it all. Now, Pavelka is instilling this entrepreneurial spirit in kids across the United States.

From Aug. 4 to Aug. 7, the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Center for Rural Research & Development will partner with Pavelka and the Nebraska Extension ESI for Kearney’s Biz Kidz Camp. Pavelka will teach 20 middle school-aged students how to start their own business.

“It just makes them very independent when they have so many decisions and they learn from that,” said Pavelka, who is a teacher by trade. “Also, they have to learn from the consequences of a poor decision.”

Pavelka teaches students about the basics of entrepreneurship, how to develop a good idea, record-keeping, marketing and how to sell their product. After the week of half-day sessions, the camp culminates with a small business expo where the students pitch their ideas to the community.

Last year, 12 students from the Kearney camp sold more than $600 worth of their products during the two-hour expo.

“I love it when they turn to me and say, ‘This is fun!’ ” Pavelka said.

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Growing up on a farm in South Dakota, Pavelka said she learned to be resourceful at a young age.

As a third-grader, she was the owner of her own one-woman bakery. She’d make little cakes in pans from her play kitchen and package the finished cake in styrofoam Big Mac boxes to deliver to classmates. By the time she was in high school she had a full-fledged business making wedding cakes and was able to save money for college.

Understanding how entrepreneurship impacted her life and the lives of her children is what gives Pavelka a passion for inspiring innovation in children now.

“I strongly believe that we should be teaching entrepreneurship,” she said. “Not everyone is geared to be an entrepreneur, but I believe the skills and lessons are valuable for everyone.”

Her belief also led her to author her first book, titled “Start Young, Start Small: The ABC’s and 123’s of Owning a Business by the Age of Six.” It’s a collection of thoughts and stories from her experience in helping her children start their own businesses. The book will be available on Amazon in July.

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This summer Megan Beck will attend the Kearney Biz Kidz camp for the second summer in a row. Last year she developed and marketed a special kind of soap with a toy inside — the goal was to encourage young children to use soap.

“It makes bath time fun!” Beck wrote in an email. “The soaps are dye-free and perfume-free so people with allergies can enjoy them, too.”

Beck said she decided to sell soap at the camp because her friend had a few soap molds that she borrowed. After she found out how much fun it was, Beck bought some molds of her own and continued making soap.

She sold her soaps at the Nebraska State Fair and one woman even asked her to make soap for her nieces and nephews to give as Christmas gifts.

Pavelka said one of her favorite parts about running the camps is watching the students get excited about their ideas and work hard to make them come to life.

“It’s really good for kids to have concrete ideas,” Pavelka said. “That’s why these camps are good … because entrepreneurship is a verb.”

That’s often where Pavelka begins the camp: She introduces the campers to the word “entrepreneur” and they work to define it in a number of different ways.

Beck said the camp showed her than anyone can start a business, even an 12-year-old like herself.

Part of being an entrepreneur is developing the ability to think independently and find ways to solve problems. It’s a seemingly limitless task because there are no right or wrong answers during the idea phase, which is what makes kids so great at it, Pavelka said.

She helps her campers hone in on specific ideas that they work to clarify for the next few days until the student expo, where they’ll market their ideas and products to the community.

The whole process is about learning and understanding the basics of entrepreneurship, she said, from accounting to sales and how to market a product. Pavelka said the campers have to learn and carry out these exercises during the week and hopefully take the knowledge with them when they leave.

“It is so encouraging for a teacher because we want them to start young and start small, but we want their business to grow with them so that by the time they’re seniors in high school they could have enough money for college or a car,” Pavelka said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t let your parents be your ATM.’ ”

Beck is looking forward to being a second-year camper this year and marketing another idea. It’s also a way to get to know other kids, she said.

“Camps like the Biz Kidz camp are important so kids can learn how to start a business and make things that they want to sell,” Beck said. “It shows kids that they can make money at their age.”

For more information about the camp contact Jessica Hinrichs at hinrichsj2@unk.edu. Registration ends July 18.