JOLIET – Entrepreneurs at a business expo for middle schoolers on Tuesday pitched ideas that ranged from an app to make doctors’ rounds more efficient to candy that can calm you down.
The expo was the culminating event of the Entrepreneurship Club, a program that brings together local schools, businesses and universities to cultivate enterprising habits in students in grades six through eight.
The effect on the youngsters was obvious as they shook hands, handed out business cards and said such things as, “I heard that homemade is starting to trend.”
That was part of Abigail Phillips’ marketing for Puffles, simple stuffed animal toys made of socks and felt with bow tie accessories created from duct tape. Phillips is a seventh-grader at Troy Middle School.
There were 31 exhibits at the expo held at the University of St. Francis Sullivan Center. Students from 11 schools participated. The schools all provide the Entrepreneurship Club program for their students.
The club, now in its fifth year, was created by the Education Committee of the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry. Partners include Lewis University, University of St. Francis and Rasmussen College.
“We come together to foster the entrepreneurial spirit of our students,” said Larry Wiers, director of school partnerships at Lewis University and coordinator of the Entrepreneurship Club program.
“The kids are very creative,” Wiers said. “But it’s not just a game for them. This is an actual business that they establish at their age level.”
Alexis Aguirre, a seventh-grader at Hufford Junior High School, is very serious about his Vital App.
“I’m trying to work on a patent for this,” Aguirre said after demonstrating the app, which would provide patient information to doctors making rounds at a hospital. The app not only could make doctors’ rounds more efficient, but it also could share information with patients’ families.
“They could see all the information that their doctor could see. They could see it on their phones,” Aguirre said.
The Entrepreneur Club is showing results, said Alita Guerrero, who has run the program at Gompers Junior High School for five years.
Guerrero said she recently heard from an early student in the program who is now a high school senior and taking tests that show he has some business acumen.
“He told me, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to go into business, but my tests tell me I’d be good at it,’ ” Guerrero said. “It’s starting to show up in test scores.”
The club does help students start thinking about how they can apply what they learn to the real world.
Kaitlyn Fowlie, a seventh-grader at Channahon Junior High School, presented her idea for Virtual Face-to-Face Spanish, an online education program that gives the busy adult one-on-one time with an instructor through a webcam.
When asked what motivated her idea, Fowlie said, “I like Spanish. I pretty much went the Spanish route and said, let’s help people who can’t do this do it.”
Rich Cronholm, owner of Johansen & Anderson, a heating and cooling business in Joliet, is one of the business advisers who visits the club a few times a year to offer insights. He said the students are curious about the business world.
“I don’t know where their questions come from,” Cronholm said. “But at the last one I was at, they asked, ‘Have you ever fired someone? What was it like to fire someone?’”
Cronholm is the adviser at Laraway School, where sixth-grader Alexandria Nance developed the concept for Suasana, a stress-reducing candy named after the Indonesian word for atmosphere.
Nance said the Entrepreneurship Club “gives you something to think about it and something to work towards. It also gives us real-life experience.”