by Bera Dunau Staff Writer
---- — A Cooperstown program that teaches children how to start and run their own businesses has entered its fifth year.
“It’s such a great program,” said Cooperstown TREP$ Chairperson Carina Franck.
The TREP$ program, whose name derives from the word entrepreneur, was created by Pamela de Wall and Hayley Romano, two New Jersey public school teachers, and has been adopted by a number of schools in that state. The eight-week program, designed for students from fourth to eighth grade, consists of after-school workshops that teach participants different aspects of building their own business, from making a business plan to identifying target demographics. The program culminates in the TREP$ marketplace, where students launch their own businesses and sell goods and services.
“They’re treated like adults,” said Franck, on the atmosphere of the marketplace.
In Cooperstown the TREP$ marketplace is being held this year as part of the Winter Carnival on Sunday, Feb. 9 from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Cooperstown Middle/High School gymnasium. Some of the items that have been sold at past marketplaces are giant cupcakes, homemade jewelry, trivets and fertilizer made from rabbit droppings.
Once participants complete the TREP$ program they can participate in the TREP$ marketplace until they graduate from high school. CCS students Margie Knight and Sylvia Johnson were part of the first TREP$ program in Cooperstown, and are returning to the marketplace for a fifth time this year to sell their jewelry. They also have sold their jewelry outside the marketplace.
On Jan. 27, participants in this year’s program got the opportunity to pitch their business plans to members of the area’s business community, who agreed to serve as mentors for the day, as part of the afternoon’s workshop.
Steve Locke, a loan officer at Farm Credit East, Jessica Baker, a mortgage lender at the Bank of Cooperstown, Jane McCoy, a director of sales at Marriott and Marcy Birch, owner of Barnyard Swing Minature Golf Course, listened to each of the business plans that have been developed by the students this year, asking questions, giving encouragement and providing constructive criticism.
One of the business plans that the mentors heard was sixth grader Caitlin Baker’s plan to make and sell aprons for dolls. Baker brought some of her finished aprons to the meetings and both mentors and students were impressed by her craftsmanship.
“Everybody liked it,” said Baker, on the reception to her plan.
Other businesses were the result of a collaboration between pairs of kids. One such pair was made up of sixth graders Eric Kukenberger and Peter Weil, who are collaborating to make and sell heart shaped maple candies.
McCoy gave the pair credit for the idea to offer free samples, and predicted that they would sell out, suggesting that they prepare themselves
“I think it’ll do pretty well,” said Kukenberger, when asked his thoughts on how his product would do at the marketplace.
Some participants discovered TREP$ through their siblings participation. Such was the case with sixth grader Emily Odell, who has chosen to name her sweet bread and muffin baking business “Batter Up.”
“My brother did it last year,” said Odell. “I thought it would be fun so I’m trying it out.”
The mentors all said that they enjoyed advising the young entrepreneurs.
“I love it, I had a great time,” said McCoy, who first became aware of the program after her daughter participated in it.
“It’s fun,” said Locke, who was asked to participate by a colleague. “I like working with young kids.”
Participants in the program must play a $5 fee to help cover the cost of the work books they receive. In order to sell in the marketplace, participants must also pay another $5 in order to cover “rent.” Final business plans for the students are due Jan. 31.
In Cooperstown, the program is offered to students from sixth to eighth grade. Next year, however, it will be expanded to include fifth graders as well.
The TREP$ program will also be coming to more communities this year. The Otsego County Chamber of Commerce has purchased the program for the schools in Milford, Laurens and Oneonta. If successful, the chamber has expressed an interest in taking TREP$ county wide.