The Smithers District Chamber of Commerce and Smithers Secondary School are teaming up to serve up scoops of ice cream next summer as part of a new course teaching students what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
The Entrepreneur 12 course starts this month and will culminate in a Dragons’ Den-style presentation by students to local business owners. The Grizzly Den in April will choose the best pitch to decide who gets to run the mobile ice cream parlour.
Chamber director and treasurer Bruce Hutchinson helped unveil the new course to students Oct. 29 in Della Herman Theatre, where students buzzed at the idea. He said the organization got involved because it wanted to help keep Bulkley Valley youth find a way to be successful in the Northwest.
“The idea sort of came from a program we got involved with a few years ago called Project Comeback, which was targeting how to attract and keep the youth in rural B.C.,” explained Hutchinson.
He added that mom and pop shops are having a hard time finding buyers when the owners want to retire.
“The Chamber put out a brochure called The Kids Came Back about local kids who came back to Smithers and started up successful businesses or careers, and that sparked the B.C. government to fund this program. There were five communities selected,” said Hutchinson.
“Smithers is a pretty easy sell: it’s got a funky Main Street, we’ve got a music scene, we got the ski hill, we got beauty. But still, how can we keep young entrepreneurs available and grow our communities so everyone doesn’t end up in the city living in a scuzzy apartment trying to scrape a living together at Walmart.”
The entire business plan and any unique ideas in what is sold or marketed will be created by students during the course, which was drawn up by local teachers based on similar courses offered elsewhere.
A few unique parts were added in, including the Grizzly Den, having guest lecturers, and earning a certificate under the Food Safe program as part of the four-credit course.
“What we’re looking at now is what are we trying to prepare students for, and getting them to recognize their own talents and find their own strengths, and also give them practice solving problems. It’s what I think they’re going to need in the future,” said Bulkley Valley Education Connection (BVEC) teacher Leslie McCurrach.
“We’re not really training people for factory jobs or things where they’re being told what to do. We’re working now on getting them to make their own decisions and their own futures.”
Students who win the right to hold the keys to the mobile parlour will have to provide their own start-up funds or receive a loan from the Chamber, which would be paid back from their profits.
“An operating loan to buy the ice cream, or maybe they want to do some advertising on the radio — depends on the business plan,” explained Hutchinson.
There is opportunity in ice cream according to BVEC teacher Matthew Monkman.
“There was an ice cream truck in Smithers before. That business has relocated, so there is an opportunity.
“One of the things the Chamber looked at is profitability and selling ice cream tends to be a profitable business, so a good one to start out,” said Monkman.
Northwest Community College is building the mobile parlour and is willing to get involved in the creation of any unique flavours.
“It’s so neat to see the buzz among the high school students. To me, that demonstrates that the Chamber has really come up with a brilliant idea,” said NWCC regional director Regina Saimoto.
Grade 12 student Ashlyn Mehr is considering taking the course, but sees more opportunity in students bringing their unique ideas to the grizzlies.
“People are doing pages on Instagram and it’d be cool … if they could pitch their idea and the town would help them do it,” said Mehr.
“I hope it’s not all about the ice cream. I think it’s a really cool idea that they gave someone [the ice cream parlour] to start off.”