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South Jordan Journal

Students make community connections, create businesses through Bingham’s Entrepreneurship Academy

Sep 11, 2023 12:36PM ● By Julie Slama

Recent Bingham High graduate Jace Wagstaff showed his entrepreneurship class the prototype, Dock Hero, that he developed with his classmates. (Photo courtesy of Jace Wagstaff)

This school year, students are following the footsteps of those who piloted Bingham High’s Entrepreneurship Academy.

Recent Bingham High graduate Jace Wagstaff was one of the first students to participate in the program. He and other students split into small groups and brainstormed ideas to start a business. Then, they had a local business leader mentor them.

His four-member group’s idea was to create a device to dock a boat without a rope.

“We developed the idea over a couple months,” Wagstaff said. “Basically, you pull the boat into the dock, then you have a suction cup that hooks onto the face of your boat and then there’s a shock system that goes against the dock that prevents it from colliding. It helps those people who struggle to find the right ropes and tying them. The idea behind it is to make it simpler and, in some cases, safer.”

He said the initial design was for waterskiing boats, but the device, Dock Hero, should work on all watercrafts including jet skis and kayaks.

Wagstaff, who has continued with the business on his own after the class ended, has six or seven prototypes and has met with an engineer to get it professionally built and manufacture about 100 devices this summer. 

The Entrepreneurship Academy began when Jordan School District career and technical education directors wanted to create entrepreneurship programs within the business departments at its six comprehensive high schools. Each high school then was charged to start its own course, so no two programs are identical, said Pepper Poulsen, Bingham High CTE/concurrent enrollment coordinator.

In Bingham’s program, students first identify “a problem that they encounter all the time that they feel they can create a business or a service to fix,” class teacher Andrea Call said. 

Next, students identify solutions for their business or service and learn how to pitch their product. They match up with a mentor. That mentor gives them feedback on their business, she said.

“We also have guest speakers. For example, we had one guy come and talk about branding. Afterward, I asked the class, ‘How can you use branding in your business? What changes can you make?’” Call said.

After the students have their business or service and a business plan, they pitch those at the Miners Tank and the judges — superintendent, assistant superintendent, principal, Jordan Education Foundation members and others — declare a winner “in terms of how viable these businesses are, how committed the kids seem, how much work they’ve done and if they’re moving forward,” Call said.

Then, the students have an option, Call said. 

“I ask them, ‘Do you want to dissolve the business you’ve been working on? Do you want to join one of the other businesses? Do you want to just start something new?’” she said, adding that they have several weeks before the end of the term when they give a presentation.

At that showcase, “the district has agreed to pay for the licensing fees if the companies want to go forward,” Call said.

While each high school operates its program differently, at Bingham “Andrea (Call) jumped in with both feet and offered it first semester, partnering with the Jordan Education Foundation who helped find mentors to work with students and that is an important part of this school’s program,” Poulsen said.

She pointed out that Bingham’s program aligns with the Academy’s goals of readying students for the process of creating a business, building professional relationships with the community and preparing students to present a public presentation, requesting funding and support for their business.

Call said she uses the building of the business as a framework.

“When a mentor comes into the class and talks about what it is to start a business, it gives the students a frame of reference because when people say, ‘start a business,’ they don’t really know what that is unless they’ve tried to do it,” she said. “Many of our mentors have come through the Jordan Education Foundation. Mike Haynes, the president, has the vision and has connections in the valley to help our students. These mentors who come through the Foundation have that tie to Jordan District; they’re invested in the schools and students and want to be role models. Anne Gold, with the Foundation, talks about how the Foundation has a motto of ‘time, talent and treasure.’ I feel this program really fits into that kind of spirit of giving; people really like to influence high school students.”

Mentors range from printing press owners to those working in cybersecurity. There have been patent lawyers to Silicon Slopes speakers.

The students match with mentors by “doing a quick, soft pitch about their idea, then we look at who may have the expertise who will be a good match,” Call said. 

She said that through the class, students are gaining a connection to the community.

“The biggest thing is making connections with people. If you look at all the data about teenagers right now that’s the No. 1 thing that they’re all missing. I want my students to have a relationship with another adult who believes in them, who encourages them and may, when they’re looking for an internship or job, write them a letter of recommendation.”

That student-adult relationship has already paid off in students’ growth. Through the encouragement of the mentor, Poulsen noticed one student gained enough confidence to speak and present the concept, crediting that mentor’s nurturing and dedication helping the student practice.

“The mentor made the student feel comfortable and valued. That’s a huge difference they’re bringing to these students,” she said. “Many of the mentors have sponsored our students to create and produce a prototype.”

Call invites professionals to speak to her students.

“We also have guest speakers who share with the students about their entrepreneurship story. They may give some advice, answer any questions that the kids have and usually they leave their contact information. So, if a kid has a particular problem, they can reach out and those speakers may be able to help them,” she said. “Students learn starting a business requires an incredible amount of energy and bravery, but they can absolutely do it. They’re learning things not going your way is just part of it. Every single person who comes in my classroom talks about how they failed miserably, but they just kept going. That grit is a good thing they can learn. They’re also learning communication, public speaking skills and working as a team. That’s one thing that we remind them of — ‘You’re not doing this by yourself.’ We ask them if they have all the skills and the answers so they’re needing to work together to design logos, do market research, come up with solutions. Even if they end up not being an entrepreneur, they’re going to use those skills, or keep that mindset in any job they have.”

Those mentors help guide students on their business ideas from Dock Hero or Sink Leak, a device that “is like a collar that goes under your sink to detect if water is leaking, and if it detects water, it sends a text message,” Call said. Another was Creature Teacher, where a stuffed animal is matched with a book that helps students learn bedtime routines before cuddling up with a stuffed animal.

“Those kids actually had a partnership with Minky Couture. They were using Minky scraps to make the animals,” Call said.

Students also created service businesses, such as developing an app that puts tutors together with students, and at the same time, gathers data for the school identifying what assistance students need and in which class unit.

Wagstaff said those professionals helped him with his business, Boats Hero. 

He continues to work on the business plan with his mentor, entrepreneur Matt Cohen. Already Wagstaff has plans to sell the Dock Hero product online as well as to boating retailers and perhaps, also make them available to state governments that use boats. He estimates a package of two would cost about $500.

“Right now, I want to keep working on the business and growing multiple products,” Wagstaff said. “I’ve put in a lot of time outside of class time, but I was able to meet some of these people from the class, which has been great. My mentor, Matt, I talk to about once every week. He taught me a lot about marketing and how to take my ideas and put them into reality.”

Being part of Bingham’s class has helped Wagstaff decide to pursue a business law degree.

“I’ve learned a lot, but the biggest thing is the mentors coming in and being willing to help us. They’ve been great and so has Ms. Call. She’s been my cheerleader. I spend a lot of time chatting to her about this, and she’s always encouraging me to move forward,” he said. “The best thing is just the network I’ve built. I feel comfortable talking to successful people and asking them questions. It’s great to just connect with these people and thanks to this class, I have that opportunity to do that as a high school student.”