Businesswoman Teaches Youth Entrepreneurial Skills At New Program

By Yolanda Putman Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) With decades of experience as a successful entrepreneur and a desire to help young people become entrepreneurs, businesswoman Michele Peterson is challenging teens to think outside the box and develop critical thinking skills.

Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.

Anyone can go out and look for a job. Local businesswoman Michele Peterson teaches youth at ArchWay to seek out opportunity.

"When someone invented the spoon, they invented it because they got tired of putting their fingers in their mouth," she said.

"The first time, the spoon was flat, and then they made it better."

But, she added, "if I'm feeding you, how much are you going to look at the design of the spoon?"

Peterson said she doesn't discourage young people from working, but some jobs, she said, are more like indentured servitude.

She wants youth to have the critical thinking skills necessary to learn from jobs so that they become entrepreneurs, able to identify and meet the needs of society.

"I was always taught to do what other people don't want to do and you'll make money," Peterson said.

She's in her 12th week of teaching youth from around the city how to market products. First it was coffee. Now it's doughnuts.

She started in the first week of August.

She doesn't have a blue print for what she's doing, just decades of experience as a successful entrepreneur and a desire to help youth become entrepreneurs, she said.

Peterson, who renovates homes, also owns Urban Lawn on Main Street and REMI Home Elevators in Mountain Home, Tenn.

She started with about 13 young people between the ages of 14 and 18 who came to ArchWay on Wednesdays in August. Now, she's down to five. The group has been shrinking because if someone misses a meeting, the other members vote to determine if the absent participant can return. Unless a person is good at politicking, he probably won't get voted in, because the smaller the group, the more money they have to split among themselves.

For the first two weeks, Peterson allowed the youths to equally divide the profits from the sales of doughnuts from Kochs Bakery.

The youth selected the chocolate and vanilla glaze swirl, the bakery's fourth best selling doughnut.

Then Peterson showed them the importance of meeting people and getting contact information from them. That contact information becomes a marketing list and is used to sell the doughnuts.

ArchWay kids sold 10 dozen doughnuts in the first week of October.

They sold 17 dozen in the second week and 30 dozen this past week.

Peterson sends weekly emails to her own associates and to the contacts the youth have collected reminding them to purchase the chocolate and vanilla glaze swirl doughnut on Wednesdays to support ArchWay youth.

"We're shooting for one kid to become an entrepreneur here," she said.

Five teens attended the meeting on Wednesday.

After a chicken dinner, the other students listened as Peterson gave 16-year-old Chrystion McKibben hands-on training on making business phone calls.

The goal was to get a locksmith. Peterson told Chrystion to communicate clearly and be kind.

Chrystion did well, she said.

The next exercise was about marketing. She offered $50 to any youth who could tell the name, age and city of residence of each person in the room.

Getting a person's name, age or birth date and location is fundamental to good marketing, said Peterson.

When the teens began the exercise in August, most of them weren't comfortable making eye contact, shaking a person's hand or asking their name. On Wednesday, each student introduced him or herself when a new guest entered the room.

The youth agreed to split the $50, because it took each person to remember the names, ages and city residence of all youth and adults in the room.

Sixteen-year-old Amari Johnson, who wants to be a song writer and own a mechanic shop, said he's grateful for the experience. "We're learning business and marketing. We're learning new ways to greet people and make money," he said.

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