Creating Opportunities for Entrepreneurs: A Student Perspective on Startups

Chloe Stories

Succulents and KCEO

A passion for plants. Who knew that could be the foundation for a startup?

Plant centered purpose, drive, and motivation has sparked joy and an entrepreneurial spirit in Stella Depuydt, who is a junior at New London-Spicer High School and a member of this years Kandiyohi CEO class.

CEO, which stands for Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, provides high school juniors and seniors with the opportunity to build relationships, rediscover their community, and start their own businesses. As a result of the class, we welcome 23 new startups to Kandiyohi County this year. These businesses range from marketing and videography to docks and decor to scrunchies and succulents.

Stella Depuydt’s love of plants led her to start a business called Stella’s Succulents. She showcased her new business at this years 5th annual KCEO Trade Show.

At her trade show booth, she spoke confidently and excitedly. She explained that she purchases wholesale succulents from California, because propagating plants wouldn’t be as efficient. She re-pots them with her very own soil mixture. The mixture supports healthy drainage, so plants don’t die as a result of root rot. According to Stella, root rot is the leading cause of plant death and likely the reason many of our plants have died!

As a junior in high school, you wouldn’t expect Stella to explain the fundamentals of hydroponics or own and operate her own business. Her well spoken and personable nature wouldn’t lead you to think she previously considered herself shy. Yet Stella can confidently talk about plants and root rot and owns her own business.

KCEO has taught Stella to “Take more risks. Don’t be afraid to talk to people. Something that held me back was thinking I was shy and couldn’t talk to people. I’ve met so many cool people that wanna know what I’m doing.”

Plants have pushed Stella to find her voice. She has found comfortability in public speaking and selling. She has taken her passion for potted plants and growing things and transformed it into an opportunity for personal and professional growth.

Finding Where You Fit Through Hands-on Learning

Unlike many high school classes, students in Kandiyohi CEO don’t study a textbook. Learning happens outside of the classroom.

Tyler Gehrking, facilitator of the program and entrepreneur, doesn’t tell the students how to start a business or run a startup. Yes, it is a class for school, but he is more than their teacher. He is a mentor. He doesn’t give them all the answers, he guides them on their journey of learning. By being a part of KCEO, “They learn about the world. They learn about themselves. And they start the process of figuring out where they fit.”

There isn’t one right path of learning. Blake Thomas, a senior in Willmar, believes students should do CEO because “It shows you what the real world is like. A lot of kids don’t know what they wanna do, and they can try and figure it out by learning about all kinds of jobs.”

If you don’t try and experience new things, you’ll never know what you like and dislike. That’s precisely what KCEO students were able to do. Blake said, “{I liked} being out of school. I got perspective on what I want to do later in life. I wanna keep our hat business going or keep owning my own businesses in the area.”

Hands-on learning opportunities give us the chance to apply and engage what we’ve learned. To find out what works and what doesn’t. Whether it’s testing a theory or trying something new or starting a business, the KCEO entrepreneurs are going for it.

Building Connections

There is value in building connections and relationships in your community. Connecting over coffee, learning a new skill, and sharing stories. These are all things KCEO students have been doing, and will continue to do to make connections.

KCEO student entrepreneurs Blake Thomas and Bryan Weidemann co-founded Clutch Hats. The two have sold tons of hats that feature fun designs and their logo, but what has a hat business taught them? Weidemann was able to discover what opportunities are available to him in Kandiyohi County. Blake learned the importance of networking. His biggest piece of advice for students his age is to not be afraid to talk to people and network. He thinks you should get to know as many people as you can. Building connections is how you become successful. Hats off to that!

Understanding Culture

The culture of an organization isn’t something you can explain to another person. It’s something you must feel for yourself. Being a part of KCEO is an experience that can’t truly be captured in the words of an article, because learning doesn’t happen on paper. Culture is something you create and experience.

What Stella enjoyed most about the program was “Getting to see different businesses in the area and their work cultures.” She realized that the culture of each organization was different. “It’s not something I had thought about before. Every business needs an accountant and an HR manager, but what is unique to each company is the attitudes and culture of the organization. In the future that is something I will take into account when looking for jobs.” She’s eager to find a company with an awesome culture that she fits into.

Culture impacts the communication style, work environment, and daily operations of a business. It’s important to consider the impact of culture and how it affects our work, something Stella is already thinking about.

Kandiyohi CEO cultivates an innovative and entrepreneurial culture. It encourages ideas and hands-on learning. Opportunities for growth and learning from failure. The culture that KCEO has built in 5 years draws people to their annual trade show to pick the brains of young entrepreneurs and explore months of hard work on display. It even brings back past KCEO students to support fellow entrepreneurs and learn from a younger, possibly even more eager group of students.

KCEO brings students together, and pushes them to go outside of their comfort zones; it pushes people to make connections and find out where they fit best.

What It Means to Be an Entrepreneur

The meaning of entrepreneurship may seem as simple as a dictionary definition. Reality is it represents different things to different people. Sometimes it starts with purpose and passion, and other times it begins with solving a problem.

Bryan Weidemann found something that he loves to do: sell hats. “Entrepreneur means to me someone who wants to run something of their own. They see a problem, and they build solutions. It means that they don’t necessarily care about the money, but they care about the life they are living.”

Entrepreneurship doesn’t look a certain way. Students in the Kandiyohi CEO class have certainly taught us that. Skills and creativity can make a splash on your screen, like Sufyan Harbi and Siraji Yare’s videos for Hyper Marketing. Ivy Bolle creates scrunchies, so your hair won’t be in your face while you innovate. Stella Debuydt’s growth started with a terracotta pot and love of plants. Bryan and Blake want their business to be more than a way to make money. They want to do something that solves problems and makes a positive difference.

Words of Wisdom from Student Entrepreneurs

How can we learn from students with startups? What challenges do they face? Why should we listen to them?

To Blake Thomas, an entrepreneur is “somebody who goes out and tries to make the world a better place with their business.” Entrepreneurship is what you make it. All entrepreneurs encounter obstacles and face challenges. The key is “Being able to find ways around making mistakes and being discouraged.” Blake soon realized that “Everybody makes mistakes, and you just have to move past them.”

“{Stella’s} biggest takeaway is you don’t have to conform to peoples’ impressions or expectations. You can start your own business and do things people don’t think you’re capable of. If you decide to do it and have the motivation, there’s not much that can stop you.”

Students encounter the same or similar problems that the average business professional or business would face. What we can learn from these students is to approach each challenge as a learning opportunity. Each mistake as an opportunity for improvement. Areas of improvement as areas for growth.

By listening to students, we can learn to go for it. To be an entrepreneur. Have a startup. Create entrepreneurial opportunities, whatever or wherever they may be.