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UMD program assists budding teen entrepreneurs

Participants in the inaugural year of the Teen Enterprise program gather for a photo on the Vista Queen on their final day together last summer. Pictured, left to right, are: Mike Ender, Dan Ender, Ben Larson, Sarah Bisel, Jarrid Johnson, Raeanne Allgood, Brooke Wrazidlo, Nicole Wrazidlo, Lindsey McMillan and Kjell Hinkel. (Photo courtesy UMD Center for Economic Development)1 / 2
Denfeld High School students Ben Larson (from left), Jarrid Johnson, Sam Gerth and Nicole Wrazidlo present their research on how businesses gain competitive advantages. The students were participating in the University of Minnesota Duluth Center for Economic Development's Teen Enterprise program. (Photo courtesy UMD Center for Economic Development)2 / 2

You could say that business runs in Nikki Wrazidlo's blood.

Her parents are Paul Wrazidlo, the owner of Old World Meats, and Kathy Heide-Wrazidlo, the owner of Heide's Mastectomy Shop, and entrepreneurship runs several generations deep in her ancestry.

Nikki, a Denfeld High School senior, plans to join the group.

"I knew at age 7 that I wanted to go into business," she said. "That's when I had a lemonade stand for the first time and I loved it."

Last summer, Nikki and her sister, Brooke, participated in the Teen Enterprise program offered by the University of Minnesota Duluth Center for Economic Development.

The week-long business training experience gives entrepreneurial-minded high school students the opportunity to create plans for a business with the help of the CED's economic experts and local business owners.

Wrazidlo, who plans to study entrepreneurship and marketing at UMD this fall, said she and her sister jumped at the opportunity after their mother heard about it.

"It was really fun because it incorporated learning about entrepreneurship with community visits to meet actual entrepreneurs," she said. "It was really interesting to see entrepreneurship in the city."

Sandi Larson, the public engagement coordinator for the CED, came up with the idea to start the program last year. The program can help the teens gain a competitive advantage as they prepare to start their own businesses, she said.

"For a large percentage of people, entrepreneurship is something they will do at one point in their lifetime," Larson said. "This is basically for teens who think they might want to be their own boss someday."

The program started last year with an inaugural group of a dozen students, who came from East, Denfeld and Hermantown high schools, Harbor City International School, Lakeview Christian Academy and home school.

That number has been upped to 20 this summer, and spaces are still available, Larson said. The program runs June 17-21 and there is a $100 fee. Students must be preparing to enter their sophomore, junior or senior years in high school.

During the week, students will complete activities and hear from speakers at the Labovitz School of Business and Economics on the UMD campus, tour entrepreneurial ventures in Canal Park and develop mock business plans to present on the final day.

"Throughout the week, we have business consultants teaching different sessions and CED staff does sessions," Larson said. "But one fun thing, besides listening to those sessions, is that we get to go to Canal Park and tour businesses and hear from real entrepreneurs."

Larson's son, Ben, a junior at Denfeld, was one of the students who took part in the program last year. He said he's interested in opening a restaurant someday.

For Teen Enterprise, he chose to design a coffee shop. Choosing a location, sales and marketing strategies and calculating expenses was tough, he said.

"A lot of people think about owning a business, but we really learned about how hard it can be, and how much to put into it," Larson said.

Still, that has not deterred him from wanting to open his own restaurant. The key, he learned, is to find a competitive advantage.

"I really like the idea of being my own boss," he said. "I'd like to bring something new to Duluth. It's all a matter of figuring out why people would want to use my services versus someone else's."