The Entrepreneurship Project

Bill Gates. Mark Zuckerberg. Larry Page. Sergey Brin. They share more than a few enviable accomplishments. They are billionaires who made their fortunes in tech, and started their businesses while they were still students.

Young people are natural innovators and entrepreneurs, and harvesting this potential is something Julie DeVree and Heidi Solway take on with, The Entrepreneurship Project. The project was designed four years ago by Julie DeVree, a grade 8 teacher at Laurie Hawkins Public School. Each year, grade 8 students look forward to the annual event, where they start their own business and test out sales at their Business Fair. Grade 8 teacher, Heidi Solway, at Hillcrest Public School followed Julie's success and brought The Entrepreneurship Project to Hillcrest.

Both Julie and Heidi are strong proponents of student-centred, project based learning where students are engaged in authentic (real world) learning experiences. The Entrepreneurship Project invites students to connect with a business partner, research and decide on a product idea, develop a marketing campaign, then take their inventory to market at a student-managed Business Fair. At the Business Fair, students soon learn that, "Big risk, often means big reward," says Julie.

"Every year, our student entrepreneurs are driven with the need to succeed. Creating and developing businesses allows them to take risks, implement a wide variety of math, language, and media literacy skills, and also gives them no limitations on the profit and opportunities that they can gain," says Julie. 

With The Entrepreneurship Project, Heidi says she steps aside as the deliverer of information and knowledge, and simply facilitates learning by providing choice, pathways, strategies and resources students might require. "It is the passion to succeed, that drives the immense effort put forth by students."

According to Julie and Heidi, students show an invested interest in learning statistics in the marketing, number sense (finding unit price, discounts, converting percentages to decimals, making change, etc.), and probability (potential number of sales, determining profit margins) through this authentic learning experience. Students determine on their own what percentage of their business's profits (usually between $300 and $600) go towards a year-end trip, as well as a charity selected by the students.

In hosting a Business Fair, both DeVree's and Solway's class were preparing to test their learning against an authentic audience...the customer. This emotional investment in their business's success drove a passion for learning, and amplified their efforts. Students enjoy creating their own product, designing their media, setting prices, controlling sales, and allocate their earnings as they see fit. Students also learn important lessons in dedication, commitment, work ethic, critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration.

"My students were so proud of themselves when they were able to donate almost $400 to the Ronald McDonald House," remarked Heidi. "Students showed deep and honest reflections about their efforts, successes, and shortcomings. But most of all, what they learned, stuck!"

"Learning to become successful business owners and entrepreneurs for the past six weeks was definitely worth the outcome. Megan and I sold over one hundred of our hand-made cake pops in two days at the Business Fair. We made over $200 and both ended up walking away with $50 after paying expenses back! We made a banner, flyers, business cards and brochures, an online spreadsheet, and even our own website! I think that having to prepare all of these things helped us to realize how important it is not only to be prepared for sale day, but also for real life. We now have the skills to create work for ourselves IF we can't get a job. I think it also taught us responsibility, and even when some things didn't turn out the way we wanted the first time, we kept trying and didn't give up." ~ Abbie B. (Grade 8 Student)

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