Young people are the target for the second business-focused program created by a Springfield nonprofit in as many years.
The Life360 Business Academy is a four-month after-school program designed to teach children in fifth through seventh grades entrepreneurial, interpersonal and communication skills. The academy organized by Life360 Community Services began Jan. 3 at The Fairbanks community center in north Springfield, and runs through May 23, said Billie Wiegand, after-school director for the nonprofit.
The inaugural offering of the program, which is held 3-6 p.m. every weekday, is capped at 10 students. Wiegand said only three are registered for the first week, but she expects the number to grow as the academy continues. The program agenda incorporates hands-on learning, guest speakers and field trips. The $42 weekly cost includes transportation, snacks and materials, and state child care subsidies are accepted for those who are eligible, she said.
“It’s a very in-depth program. There’s not really a lot of after-school programs getting into learning about entrepreneurship as well as learning some additional life skills,” she said, noting she spoke several months ago about the concept with Jeremy Hahn, Life360 Community Services executive vice president.
Hahn, who has spent seven years working with families in Grant Beach where The Fairbanks is located, said many neighborhood residents are living at the poverty level. While the organization has Jobs for Life, an eight-week employment readiness course for adults, he agreed with Wiegand that local youth could be inspired by job and soft skills training.
“Whether you start your own business or go work for somebody else, if you’ve got those skills and understand how business works, you’re going to be a great employee or great employer,” Hahn said. “That’s what we want to instill in these kids and give them every chance that they can to be successful in the future.”
Hahn said Life360 is investing roughly $40,000 for the academy’s first year, and the program is expected to return each fall. Annual ongoing costs will range $20,000-$30,000, he said.
“It’s part of who we are. Life360 Community Services is all about helping people take that next step in life, and this is a big part of it,” he said. “It’s the core of what we do.”
Organized in 2011, Life360 Community Services’ four core initiatives are to feed, house, educate and empower those in need. Hahn said the nonprofit employs roughly 280 and has a $17 million operating budget. Roughly 95% of the budget is government funding, he said, adding the organization wants to increase its private donations for startup programs such as the business academy.
The academy’s curriculum covers common business practices, ethics, marketing strategies and fiscal responsibility, as well as soft skills, such as building and maintaining healthy relationships in the workplace.
“It goes beyond just business,” Hahn said. “But of course, we know business encompasses all of those things – showing up on time, good work ethic, caring for people. If we’re going to be strong employees and employers, we’ve got to learn these soft skills and interpersonal relationships.”
Aside from field trips, such as visiting a mechanic’s shop and bank to see what jobs in those environments look like, students will hear guest speakers from organizations such as Southwest Missouri SCORE and the local chapter of 1 Million Cups, which connects entrepreneurs with potential investors and customers.
SCORE mentor Mackenzie Scherer, who is also the local group’s marketing chair, plans to be among the academy’s guest speakers. She said it fits within SCORE’s services of providing counseling and mentoring to entrepreneurs and startups. While the scope of its involvement is still being determined, Scherer said the organization also will offer mentors to Life360 to teach classes in the academy and connect them to other businesses.
“It’s important that we get younger individuals involved in wanting to start businesses and understand that there’s other options other than just going to college to help your community and be involved,” said Scherer, an entrepreneur in her own right as owner of website design company Brokesite and business consulting firm Mackenzie Scherer LLC.
The academy is a companion piece to the Life360 Springfield Children’s Business Fair, which was first held at The Fairbanks in December 2019. Commercial Street hosted the third edition of the fair last month, drawing a participation record of 45 children and roughly 1,000 in attendance to the free event.
Open to children up to age 18, participants create a product or service, develop a brand, build a marketing strategy and sell to the public at the event. The children are responsible for booth setup, sales and customer service.
“I’d love to see us hit about 100 booths and eventually exceed that,” Hahn said. “Maybe we have to go to the fairgrounds or the [Springfield] Expo Center or something larger. We certainly don’t want to limit the number who want to participate.”
Wiegand said several new aspects for the fair were incorporated last year. One was the addition of free business courses to the students who register for the fair. The courses, which are held once a week beginning a month prior to the event, cover basics of entrepreneurship, such as marketing, budgeting and customer service.
“These courses help shape their idea of what the business is going to look like, and the fair really tests their ideas out,” Wiegand said.
Hahn said each child comes out of the courses with a completed business model canvas, consisting of a one-page business report and analysis to have available to customers to see at the fair. Last month’s fair participants also were registered for the first time as licensed business owners with the city of Springfield. Additionally, five booth winners from the fair were approved by Life360 to sell their products from a kiosk set up this month in Fairbanks Coffee, which is inside The Fairbanks, 1126 N. Broadway Ave. Jewelry, bath bombs, candles and paintings are among the items for sale at the coffee shop, Hahn said, noting the children keep all profits, save for a 5% consignment fee to cover credit card processing.
“The business fair kind of leads the way for the business academy as we’re seeing it,” Hahn said. “It’s an opportunity for kids to get involved and spark imagination and then let’s go deeper with the business academy. Let’s refine that business that you started or are wanting to start.”
The next fair is scheduled for April 9, with the intent to hold the event twice a year. Hahn said the coronavirus pandemic prevented the biannual plan from being implemented in 2020 and 2021.
Read the profiles of this year's honorees.