The Mentor Match Entrepreneur program kicked off its 8th year Sept. 6 with seven county teens –– all girls –– from three high schools in Wallowa County showed up to learn what to expect.
That leaves room for five more participants.
The program, funded and administered by nonprofit Building Healthy Families, is open to all county juniors and seniors who want to learn how to start a business. The objective of the program is to introduce kids to entrepreneurship and business as a career and educational choice in hopes that they may one day use those skills to start or help expand a business in Wallowa County.
“It’s always amazing what kids will do,” said program creator and adviser Stacy Green. “You give them a tiny bit of direction, and they are off and running.”
Green said some of the most profitable businesses in the program’s history have been built around recycling, helping people with chores, baking and pet-sitting. The most creative have been an underground school newspaper for Enterprise called “The Outlawed Press,” and a repurposed furniture business that involved painting second-hand wood furniture with paint mixed with shoe polish.
The business that shipped product the farthest –– Florida –– was Toasty Toes Foot Warmers. The biggest single sale was $400, for 40 black and white photographs of the Wallowas, sold by Art Adoption, which represented local artists to retail stores and businesses. The sale was to Viridian Management, which used them for client gifts.
“I wrote my college essay on the business I created,” said Nikolai Christoffersen, a 2015 graduate of Enterprise who created Metal Man, a scrap recycling business. “I continue to use my experience in the program as a distinguishing feature in resumes, cover letters and interviews.” Christoffersen is a junior majoring in economics at Williams College.
Hannah Schaafsma Widener, a 2014 graduate of Enterprise who is a senior at Lewis and Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, was part of a second group who emulated “The Outlawed Press,” and published an underground newspaper for Enterprise they called “The Underground Observers,” with partners Carsen Sajonia and Katie Birkmaier.
“I highly recommend the Mentor Match program,” said Widener. “It’s an amazing networking tool.”
Green said teaching the kids how to network, and introducing them to adults who can help them is a primary objective of the program.
“Through the program, the kids can access all the networks of all the business owners they meet through the program, which include some pretty connected people,” said Green.
In Wallowa County, that group includes Getty Pollard, who trains falcons in Lostine; Tyler Hays, owner of M Crow & Company; Caio de Velo, accountant at Eide Bailey; Jack Walker, owner of a tree removal company; Deve Wolfe, owner of Teal Boutique; Will Roundy, owner of Beecrowbee; and many others.
The group also embarks upon a leadership and innovation tour, most recently to Seattle in June. The took a private tour of Microsoft including lunch at their food court. The young entrepreneurs visited with four Microsoft employees and learned how they landed at the software giant.
If there’s one thing Green would like to change about the program, it’s the ability to attract both boys and girls.
“I’m not sure why the boys have fallen off so much,” said Green, noting the first year, nine boys participated, but in the last three years, there have been only four boys total who have completed the program. “This program really benefits boys too, especially those who are not sure what they want to do after high school.”
The Mentor Match Entrepreneur program meets every other Wednesday evening 6:30-8:15 p.m. at Building Healthy Families in Enterprise and includes dinner. The program works around sports schedules as necessary.
The next class is Sept. 20. Interested students can contact Green at 541-398-2314 to sign up. The class is free to participants.