JOLIET – The Joliet Chamber of Commerce Middle School Entrepreneurship Club not only teaches students the importance of collaboration, but also puts community collaboration on display.
The club is a noncredit program open to middle school children in sixth to eighth grades who want to learn more about the business world at a young age.
In its seventh year, groups form in January, and teachers trained in delivering the “Real Life Entrepreneur” curriculum work with students at Gompers, Washington, Hufford, Dirksen, Troy, Rockdale, Channahon and St. Raymond schools, said Larry Wiers, director of school partnerships at Lewis University.
Professors from Lewis University, the University of St. Francis, Rasmussen College and Joliet Junior College help train the teachers.
“Besides the skills of building a business, the skills of collaboration and developing speaking skills, all the soft skills employers certainly like to see develop are encouraged through the program,” Wiers said.
Teachers, paired with local business advisers, help the children develop their plans as they work toward establishing their “business.”
Wiers said the students who get involved in the club are invested.
“They get really excited about it because it’s unconventional,” Wiers said.
The program culminates with a Business EXPO from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Sullivan Center at the University of St. Francis, 500 Wilcox St., Joliet, in which almost 100 students pitch their businesses to attendees.
Chamber members are invited to network with the students, and a “real world” young entrepreneur gives a presentation.
“The entrepreneurial spirit in America is as alive and well as ever,” Wiers said. “If you talk to entrepreneurs, a lot of them started their ideas in middle school.”
The students’ preparedness and creativity impress those who attend and frequently inspire the children to pursue business-related activities in high school.
The idea for the club was created in 2011, when several university partners and the Business Education Committee of the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce began looking at ideas to engage young students in entrepreneurial vision.
Lewis University, the University of St. Francis, Joliet Junior College, Rasmussen College, the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Will County Regional Superintendent’s Office and public and private grade and middle school districts in the area also support the club with donations of time and funding.
“I think it’s the ultimate program of collaboration – it represents community collaboration at its very best,” Wiers said.
The program earned statewide recognition from the Illinois Council on Continuing Higher Education when it received the Innovative Initiative Award in February 2013.