COLUMBIA — In a striped button-up shirt, black slacks and styled hair, Brandon Banks looks like a typical businessman ready for a day’s work in the office.
However, Brandon is anything but typical. The 17-year-old from Troy, Mo., started his own business when he was only 15.
Three years ago, Brandon’s mom gave him the options of attending a chef camp or a business camp. Already a talented cook with several original recipes, Brandon chose the Summers @ Mizzou 4-H Build-a-Business camp
, held on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia.
He arrived at the summer session with “no idea” and “no interest” in business. He came out of camp with his plan for Spot Light Stars
, a children’s theater production company that offers workshops, classes and camps.
“Never in a million years would I have guessed it would lead me to be a business owner at 15,” he said.
Now, Brandon gives back to the camp that facilitated his young career. He has been a camp counselor for two years.
Build-A-Business, sponsored by the University of Missouri Extension 4-H Center for Youth Development and other MU campus partners, began in 2007. It attracts young adults from 12 to 16 and teaches them how to start their own business. Campers are not required to be 4-H members.
Some campers come with a business idea, but others don’t, Steve Henness, the camp director, said. When the campers arrive, they begin brainstorming about a business idea and have four days to refine, develop and plan a business.
During the session, campers are given the opportunity to tour businesses and learn from entrepreneurs. They also learn about the different financial, legal and advertising aspects of running their own businesses.
Participants also met with two local businesses at the League of Innovators business incubator for a creative marketing workshop. The companies proposed difficulties or problems they have with marketing their product or service. The campers split into two groups and brainstormed suggestions or solutions. Their ideas ranged from traditional marketing techniques such as commercials and posters to modern tactics like Facebook recommendations and discounts for referring a friend.
“(The camp) follows the 4-H method of experiential, hands-on learning,” Henness said.
Spending a week during summer learning about business-making may not initially sound like a way a young adult wants to spend his or her summer. But Henness said he has found that interest is growing.
The jobs traditionally filled by young adults, such as food and retail service, are now being filled by adults who may have lost their jobs during the slow economy, Henness said. Youth employment is at an all-time low.
“Youth are wanting to work,” he said. “There’s fewer opportunities these days.”
Some campers come to the session with a business already in the works and use their new knowledge to improve it.
Shawna Scott, a 17-year-old from Jefferson City, has a passion for videography. She doesn’t remember when it started, she said, but she began first by playing with a camcorder that was “lying around” her family’s home.
As her interest grew, she learned more about the skills and equipment. She also works at a local TV station.
When 4-H developed a videography project, Shawna latched onto it and used 4-H to continue her passion. She is a member of the Cole County 4 Seasons 4-H club and has been in 4-H since she was old enough to be a Clover Kid. Clover Kids is a pre-4-H membership aimed at five to seven year-olds.
After attending Build-A-Business this year, she learned a lot, she said. Although she had already begun to do video jobs for other people, she now has ideas on how to make her talent more marketable. She also learned more about legalities and contracts.
When Shawna gets back home, she plans to make a Facebook page for her business and work on presenting her services to potential clients.
“I’m starting to get a lot bigger picture now,” she said.