Program Teaches Teens Free Enterprise Principles Firsthand

Some entrepreneurial high school students have been quite literally getting their hands dirty during the Free Enterprise Leadership Challenge at Palm Beach Atlantic University this week.

As a business enterprise, one group of teens offered custom tie-dyeing for T-shirts and sold tie-dyed headbands. The stains on their hands were a testament to their labor, a FELC staff member said.

Another group sold concessions to fellow FELC participants and others on campus. What set them apart? “We have room service,” said Blake Tipping, 16, a student at Boca Raton Community High School.

Eighty-six high schoolers came to PBA to take on the Free Enterprise Leadership Challenge, a program of the Jesse Helms Center Foundation. This year, the Jesse Helms Center, based in Wingate, N.C., is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

This is the first year that the challenge is being held at PBA, a university that upholds the principles of American free enterprise both in the classroom and with an annual celebration.

In addition to PBA, the five-day program is being held on four other university campuses this summer in North Carolina, Texas and Michigan. In total, 6,800 students have participated in the program since it began in 1995.

The Free Enterprise Leadership Challenge features a company competition in which students form start-ups and, hopefully, turn a profit. The transactions involve real money, which companies can borrow from the FELC bank.

Students work in teams to write business plans, develop marketing campaigns and make sales. The companies have officers, and each person is assigned specific tasks.

“We’ve been able to find each other’s talents and form a company,” Tipping said. “It’s been clicking so far.”

The students came from high schools in Florida, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina and Delaware, as well as Puerto Rico and El Salvador.

In addition to the company competition, the week’s agenda included interactive lessons and opportunities for the students to hear from guest speakers. Among them was PBA President William M.B. Fleming Jr., who was involved in the founding of the Jesse Helms Center.

One of the topics covered this week was philanthropy, a discussion led by Brian Rogers, the FELC’s chief operating officer. Although they are not required to, many teams opt to donate their profits to, a micro-finance website, he said.

In fact, all six companies this week voted to donate their profits, a combined total of more than $700, to, he said. “They worked hard to earn it,” Rogers said.

Serving on the program’s staff is recent college graduate Will Crandall, who said he regrets not being involved with the program as a high school student. It affords participants a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about free enterprise, he said.

“They learn more about themselves,” Crandall said. “They learn what it takes to be a professional, and they learn that higher education will help them achieve success in their business pursuits.”