Enterprising Teens Rise to Challenge at Business Leadership Camp

The challenge: Launch a startup in less than a week, with only a shoestring budget.

For 16-year-old Kaylah Clark and her nine-member team of summer campers, it was a call to action.

In fact, the apparel company the teens created began to turn a profit as the five-day Free Enterprise Leadership Challenge at Palm Beach Atlantic University drew to a close this week. Before the final sales were tallied, their business, One of a Kind Stylecation, already had earned $86.

High school students work on a presentation during the Free Enterprise Leadership Challenge at Palm Beach Atlantic University on Thursday.

Clark, an incoming senior at Miami Northwestern Senior High School, served as president of the company, which transformed ordinary T-shirts and bandanas into tie-dyed creations. The students developed their own advertising, such as creating a commercial depicting fellow campers and celebrities sporting tie-dyed clothing.

With only minimal costs for the materials and team members donating their labor, the group sold bandanas for $3, shirts for $6 and a set of both for $8 to the other FELC participants.

In addition to buying the items for themselves, “people are buying them for their siblings,” Clark said. “I think it was a great success.”

Another team sold concessions, and a third team sold tickets to evening entertainment events during the challenge. The transactions involve real money, which companies can borrow from the FELC bank.

This is the fourth year in which the challenge has been held at PBA, a university that upholds the principles of American free enterprise both in the classroom and with an annual celebration

FELC is a program of the Jesse Helms Center, a non-profit organization based in Wingate, North Carolina. In addition to PBA, the five-day program is being held on four other university campuses this summer.

At the end of the week, teams can choose to keep their profits, dividing them equally among the members. However, most opt to donate their earnings to microfinance website kiva.org or to a scholarship fund established in honor of Reagan Hartley, a FELC counselor who died tragically at age 22.

Running a company is only part of the FELC experience. The student teams also invest $1 million in a virtual stock market. At the end of the week, the top-performing company in the virtual competition receives a $20 infusion into its company profits.

The students also work on developing a fictional business plan to sell a product of their choosing to an overseas market. Suncoast Community High School student Adam Ebersole, 14, said his team was researching the feasibility of selling tires to Canada. 

In all, more than 30 high school students participated in this year’s challenge at PBA. Most were from Florida with one coming from Illinois.

Clark said she expected the challenge to be more lecture-based, and she was pleasantly surprised by the number of hands-on activities. 

“Your success is based on how your group reacts,” she said. “I think you learn more when you have to do it yourself.”