For new companies in Bonner County as elsewhere, finding start-up funding is always a challenge. But the young businessmen and women in Brian Powell’s entrepreneurship class at Clark Fork High School had a resource that their elder colleagues didn’t have: Their seed money came from the Panhandle Alliance for Education (PAFE).
Powell started thinking more than a year ago about what kind of business his students could run from their remote perch at the eastern edge of the county. As a school-based business, it couldn’t require a full-time commitment. Powell wanted it to enable his students to learn something new and be involved with their community. He figured it would need to be technology-based, but it couldn’t require much capital to get started.
In last year’s entrepreneurship class, students brainstormed what kind of business might meet these criteria, and they came up with the idea for Bonner County Cut-Outs. It’s a website that residents and visitors can search to find coupons for discounts at their favorite Bonner County businesses. Powell wrote a grant to PAFE to purchase tablet computers, which students use to show potential clients how the program works; the grant also covers the first year’s web connection fees and the cost of transporting students to Sandpoint for sales calls.
This fall, students wrote a business plan and built a demonstration website. After practicing their sales presentations in class, they spread out in the community to pitch the concept and design coupons for businesses that showed an interest. By the time the website went live in mid-December, 28 businesses had signed up to have coupons available at www.bonnercountycut-outs.com.
To advertise the project, students taped spots to be aired on KPND FM 95.3, and they got some extra publicity when host Gary Lirette interviewed students Laray Stoffels and Cassidy Smith for KPND’s “North Idaho Business” program. Smith created a page for Bonner County Cut-Outs on Facebook as well.
The students like the class. “It’s hands-on” says Stoffels of the real-life nature of her schoolwork, and Smith has discovered she really loves talking to people—even making cold calls. “It’s fun to see what will happen,” she says. Both businesswomen have been pleased to discover that many local business owners are interested in listening to them and want to support students. It’s more work than their other classes, but they don’t seem to mind: “It’s a different kind of work,” Stoffels points out.
Once their business income has covered ongoing web connection and advertising costs, the students will get to take home their share of the profits. But they’re also putting some money away toward the cost of a trip to Seattle. That’s because their efforts have already earned them an invitation to give a presentation about their project to the Northwest Council for Computer Education in March.