25 years of teaching confidence by doing
By Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Writer
As KidBiz celebrates its 25th year on Grand Island, a new crop of students will learn first-hand what it takes to run a business. And the community can show its support for these young entrepreneurs by checking out the products they will sell.
The event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 17, at the Town Commons, 2255 Baseline Road.
“It looks like we’re going to have our largest ever … right now we have 155 kids signed up,” said Eric Fieblekorn, Grand Island Chamber of Commerce president. The kids in the program are in second through eighth grade.
In the 25 years it has been running, it has changed with the times and the technology. Fieblekorn said those changes include the nature of the product – “What’s being sold, what’s popular. It’s always an interesting reflection” of the popular culture, he said. Once it was trading cards. “One year, fidget spinners were everything; these kids were playing with them.”
He said some products are current, others crop up depending on outside forces. For example, “When the Bills are good, there’s more Bills stuff for sale,” Fieblekorn said.
“I would say over the years, too, it’s flipped from more boys participating to actually more girls, which I think is super interesting. … I think that’s a great thing.” He added, “All our entrepreneurs, no matter of their race, religion, status, gender, are much more engaged now, across the board.”
“The creativity of the kids is always one of the coolest things to see,” Fieblekorn said.
A wide range of interests among participants is producing a wide range of products. Musicians, inventors of their own products, and forward-thinking youngsters all bring their own skills.
“The chamber believes that a lot of this country’s greatness is based on the innovation we’ve had,” he said.
In the KidBiz training sessions, Fieblekorn tells about a kid who made his own bottle caps with pictures he took around the Island of sports teams.
“He had a tool that crushed the edges with a magnet – he made his own magnet. … It’s just neat to see the creativity,” Fieblekorn said.
When the program began, although it was rooted in inspiring entrepreneurship, the focus was more about customer service skills – how to talk to people, Fieblekorn said. “That’s still more important – maybe more important than ever.” In a digital age, he said, we are getting fewer human skills, but it’s something he sees the kids as developing.
“But now there’s a certain amount of technical savvy that some of the kids are showing, even in their marketing.”
He said he explains the concept this way: “Marketing is a fancy adult word for show and tell.”
Some of that show and tell involves social media networking.
Fieblekorn said that, in KidBiz, they talk teamwork a lot, as well as being part of a community.
“We teach them about even having a partner in the business and the dynamics of that, and one business helping another,” he said. “These are things we’re still trying to help to teach adults in our chamber membership, in our business community.”
The KidBiz training involved seven classes during school time in Huth, Kaegebein, St. Stephen’s and the middle school. There’s also a parent training where they learn their responsibilities and when to leave it to the kids.
“One of the things the kids love in the training, we tell them, ‘Look, this is KidBiz, not Kid and Parent Biz,’ ” Fieblekorn said. “They get a charge out of this: ‘Your parents are not allowed to talk on that day.’ They think that’s just crazy. We do it to catch their attention. The parent involvement is really helping them get there and being some kind of supervisor. But the selling, talking, price-setting, engaging with clients – we actually ask the parents not to engage whatsoever – unless the kids get stuck.”
Fieblekorn calls the training the introduction to forming a business plan. He said some adults whose business is struggling come to the chamber for guidance. In talking to them, it becomes apparent that they don’t even have a solid business plan, just an interest in a certain field but no idea of how to make a profit.
“It’s really shocking,” Fieblekorn said. He explained he asks them, “ ‘Well, what are you hoping to make this year?’ ” and they reply, “ ‘Well, whatever’s left over.’ That’s not a good plan.
“They just want to do what they love, what they’re passionate about.”
He tells them, “ ‘If you don’t make money, you don’t get to do what you love – very long.’ ”
The chamber partners with the school district through the Grand Island School Business Alliance (GISBA) to educate the youngsters about starting a business. GISBA is one of the main sponsors of KidBiz, which is also supported by the local business community.
Next in the progression for the students is DECA, formerly known as the Distributive Education Clubs of America, a career and technical organization to promote hands-on business learning for high school students.
KidBiz is where it starts, and the students, themselves, determine where it takes them.
“We try to use the program as a springboard for them to know they can challenge themselves to be the next great inventor, to do great things, to be kind of courageous and bold and brave and try things – and maybe be an entrepreneur, and maybe not,” Fieblekorn said.
He values the involvement in KidBiz.
“I’m really passionate about getting kids the confidence and a good footing to start on and inspiring them,” Fieblekorn said.