Nurturing the next generation of Nebraska entrepreneurs

April 2, 2017

Nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs is key to growing our economy. Thanks to support from the Valley County Community Foundation Fund, young people in Ord, Nebraska, and the surrounding area have plenty of opportunities to explore their strengths, creativity, and their interest in running their own business.

We first met Shelby Kittle of Ord five years ago as a seventh-grader selling her hand-painted fishing lures at Valley County’s EntrepreneurShip Investigation (ESI) camp. Shelby liked to fish, and she liked to paint, so creating custom-made fishing lures made perfect sense.

She and about 20 other inventive young people got the chance to launch their own businesses during the four-day ESI camp. The youths learned about product development, visited with local entrepreneurs, produced their own marketing materials, and even met with bankers to secure loans.

Shelby’s favorite part of the camp was the final day’s product fair on the courthouse square. Each camper displayed and sold their products to the public.

Was it tough to make the sale?

“Not really,” Shelby said. “I told them about the 43½-inch muskie, and the 13-inch perch and the 33-inch pike we caught. And that seemed to work.”

At the end of the day, Shelby had done quite well. After paying back the bank her $10 loan, she had a profit of about $100. Shelby was careful to include her calling card with each sale she made.

“One day I came home and some lady had come back with my card, and my mom had sold her all of my deep divers! I’ve always planned on having my own business someday. I’m not sure what the business will be, but I’ll probably stay pretty close to home,” Shelby told us.

“I can’t believe people would do all of this for a 12-year-old girl!”

Then again, why wouldn’t they?

ESI is an award-winning entrepreneurship curriculum developed by UNL Extension, Nebraska Community Foundation and other collaborators. It has been offered in Valley County for six years, and its success has spawned other programs, such as a Youth Entrepreneur Showcase during the high school wrestling tournament, and a Business Discovery Day and Career Exploration Day for regional high school students. Youth also can join the Chamber of Commerce at a reduced rate.

Over the past five years, Shelby Kittle’s homegrown business has taken off. She expanded her product line to air-brushed mailboxes and paintings of rural scenes. She marketed successfully at county and state fairs and at farmers markets. She presented at numerous statewide conferences and events, and most recently, addressed the Nebraska LEAD Alumni during its 2016 Ag Adventure tour, and she has participated in Valley County’s ESI camp each of the last five years.

“I love it! Every year it’s different, with interesting business tours and guest speakers. Lately I’ve been mainly helping, working with the other kids. I really enjoy that,” she said.

When asked about her future, the 16-year-old is emphatic. “I want to be an entomologist. When I was a freshman I joined FFA and did beekeeping as my project.”

She says her ESI camp experience has turned up her dreams. “Everything ties back to beekeeping. I’ve always been interested in bugs. My earlier products at ESI camps were profitable, and they helped me earn and save the money. All the equipment I needed for two hives was funded by my fishing lures and air-brushing business.” A scholarship from the Nebraska Beekeepers Association gave her equipment for an additional hive and bees. This past summer she was producing and selling her cut comb, which is honey in the wax, at the farmers market in Ord.

“My long-term goal is to be an entomologist and somehow find a way to make that profitable here in Ord. It will be something to do with plants and pests, but I want to come back here.”

Today, as a high school junior and an FBLA officer, Shelby is a mentor to younger students pursuing their dreams of creating successful enterprises. “For the past three years, I have had the opportunity to watch these young entrepreneurs as they grow their own businesses. I truly enjoy seeing how they improve and change as the years go by. I’m so glad to know that young entrepreneurs are making something of themselves at such an early age.

“I do want to come back to Ord. People in a small community really care about kids and families and do so much to help them out. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone is trying hard to grow the community.”