Oregon High School teaches students how to start a small business with Social Entrepreneurship Program

OREGON, Ill. (WIFR) -- This week is National Small Business Week. 23 News is highlighting a local school that's helping its high school students learn all the skills of growing their own small business.

"By senior year everyone's wondering, ‘okay, where am I going to go to college, what am I going to do after this,’ and this class really helps you prepare for what the real world is going to be," said Olympia Powell, who is one of 19 seniors in Oregon High School's Social Entrepreneurship Program. This program allows students to create their own microbusinesses that are each designed to directly benefit the community.

"Every business that the students start has to have a social benefit. It needs to start from the premise of, how can I help the community, and then if I'm helping the community or the world, then how can that also bring an income so that I can support myself,” said Aaron Sitze, the instructor of Oregon High School’s Social Entrepreneurship Program. Sitze came up with the idea of pursuing this program to prepare seniors with real-life skills.

"I wanted to show students that it was possible for anybody who has a passion and dedication, that they can have a startup. The idea is when you get out into college, a career, or armed forces, we want you saying, I’ve got real-world experience, not just hypothetically from a textbook, but I've lived it," said Sitze.

Students pitched their businesses to investors and now some are beginning to make money from their products.

"We’ve dealt with the mayor, we've had different local businesses come to us and we have to go talk to them, so it helps with our public speaking," said Powell.

"If they trip and fall if they stumble, they get back up, they learn from it. So it's been really cool watching them grow as professionals. To me they have exceeded all my expectations," said Sitze.

"By the end of the night we had people who were actually interested in investing in us," said Powell.

This was the first year of the program and Sitze says it was successful because of the community's support. Many small businesses and banks came in to speak to the students throughout the year to give them tips for success.