Expanding Entrepreneurial Experiences at Ellis

The Holiday Shop is one of my favorite days at Ellis, as it gives our Middle School entrepreneurs the opportunity to share projects that they have worked on for several weeks. As a parent of two former Ellis Entrepreneurs, I remember the weeks leading up to the Holiday Shop as filled with laughter, excitement, doubt, and, sometimes, tears.
I’ve been through home assembly lines of duct tape creations, peppermint bark, and body lotions. One year, one of my daughters chose to custom design tie-dyed t-shirts with a friend. Their plan was to create a couple of samples, take custom orders the day of the Holiday Shop, and complete the t-shirts. I had many concerns about this plan. Would they sell any? Would I have to be involved in the actual tie-dying process? How messy and time-consuming was this going to be? To my amazement, they took many orders, created all of the shirts, and made money, even after adjusting for the family investment. When I think back, I realize this was a case study of true entrepreneurship—skepticism of family and friends, a strong belief in a product, the willingness to take calculated risks, and an organized business plan.

This year our sixth grade students will extend their Ellis Entrepreneurship experience in a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University’s Project Olympus, a startup incubator program that encourages and supports entrepreneurship on campus. Working with Kit Needham, Director of Project Olympus, and Max Mirho, co-founder of Moss Generation, every student will learn about startups and create a pitch for a product. The pitches will be voted on and the top five selected, with students joining one of the five teams. Interdisciplinary time on Tiger Days will be devoted to customer discovery, utilizing market analysis tools, creating a financial plan with revenue models, developing a sales strategy, and designing and delivering a presentation to an audience on March 11. 

In our Ellis Entrepreneurship program, students create a product and learn about labor prices and production costs. This process provides a dose of reality—it has a real deadline and students need to make something that will appeal to the Holiday Shop customer. Our work with Project Olympus will allow us to connect with the greater Pittsburgh community and provide students with the ability to expand their ideas since they won’t have to produce a prototype. This takes the process further for students who have been in Ellis Entrepreneurs for two years and are ready to take the next steps. This expansion of the experience will provide them with time and space for creativity as they learn from actual entrepreneurs and startup experts.