“Marketing creates value,” Dr. Penny Prenshaw told a group of 12 Choctaw Indian high school students on the campus of Millsaps College last week.
That was the primary lesson Prenshaw wanted to pass along during one of the sessions that made up the on-campus portion of the Youth Entrepreneurial Summer Camp offered by the Else School of Management at Millsaps.
The camp, in its first year, intends to teach the principles of the business world to aspiring entrepreneurs.
Last Wednesday morning, Prenshaw broke the students into four groups, each of which was tasked with getting its business off the ground.
Students formulated marketing ideas for their four businesses, including: Discovering a need in the community and starting a business to fill it, identifying customers and positioning their businesses in the marketplace.
“What’s the age of your customer? Where do they live? What do they do in their leisure time?” Prenshaw asked the groups.
Putting potential entrepreneurs in a position to effectively those questions, and giving them a head start in the process, was what organizers had in mind when they decided to launch the camp. The idea grew out of the Else School of Management’s Entrepreneurial Initiative, said Dr. Jesse Beeler, the school’s Hyman F. McCarty Jr. Chair of Business Administration and a professor of accounting.
“It seemed like a great way to start teaching young people about entrepreneurship and about business.”
The camp will introduce basic business skills from how to make a good first impression to how to make sales projections and prepare an income statement. The curriculum will also cover topics such as management, marketing, legal, supply and demand, opportunity recognition, finance and accounting.
Students spent the camp’s first week at the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Economic Development Center in Neshoba County. Once last week’s on-campus portion wrapped, campers will finish the camp this week and next at the MBCI facility. That final portion will feature a mentorship experience in which each student will be assigned to an executive who runs a tribal business. Each student will will go to work each day and work for and observe the executive he or she is assigned to shadow.
Last week’s portion of the camp included classes – like the marketing class Prenshaw taught – guest lectures by entrepreneurs and professionals and field trips to local businesses.
“We really hope by exposing these young people to business professionals that they’ll want to go back and be that kind of leader in their community,” Beeler said. “We’re seeing some of the top professionals in Mississippi’s business community. If these kids can see other people filling those kinds of roles, they can envision themselves filling similar roles.”
Beeler said the camp is modeled after the Else School of Management’s international business program, which carries students across the world (a trip to London is set for July) to meet and pick the brains of executives from places like Deutsche Bank and CitiGroup. “We think that model can transfer to these students,” Beeler said. “We hope to inspire these students to pursue a career in business or finance and increase the number of business leaders in the tribal community.”
Jonica Thomas plans on doing just that, provided her basketball career doesn’t get in the way. She runs the point for Choctaw Central’s girls basketball team, and will be a junior this fall.
“If I don’t become a basketball player, I want to become a nurse,” Thomas said. She said her favorite class, as of last Wednesday morning, was the business law class.
Leah Alex shared that enthusiasm for business law. Alex, who will be a senior at Choctaw Central this fall, hopes to become a lawyer.
“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot, and had a lot of fun. The business law class showed me how challenging the career I’d like to pursue can be.”
The camp is loosely based on similar Native American outreach programs at Stanford University, Northwestern University and Dartmouth College. Beeler said reaching a historically underserved population played a part in the decision to organize the camp.
“That is a part of our tradition, as a college affiliated with the Methodist Church,” he said. “It’s great fun seeing these kids start to learn and seeing their eyes open to new opportunities. I hope this is the first year of a long tradition.”