No Arts, No Crafts, All Business

At Camp $tart-UP and others like it, today's young women receive the training to become tomorrow's corporate leaders

The group sat huddled over their copious notes and calculators as they desperately tried to cut $2,000 from the budget of their hair-care-products company. Perhaps if they nixed the Web site or reduced the product lineup, they might be able to book a profit in their first year of operation.

A high-level business meeting of small-company executives? No. It was 6 of the 22 teenage girls who were spending two weeks in July at Camp $tart-UP at Dana Hall School in Wellesley, Mass. Instead of canoeing, horseback riding, and roasting marshmallows, these campers, ages 13 to 17, learned business basics, developed business plans, and networked with women entrepreneurs. "I now know what I have to do, and how I need to think if I want to start a business," said 15-year-old Caroline Keating of Medford, Ore., who took the opportunity after our chat to ask me for my business card.

PLANTING A SEED. Inspiring young girls like Keating to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams and build leadership skills is exactly what Camp $tart-UP and two other residential summer programs, Camp Entrepreneur and Camp CEO, aim to do (table). "We want to plant a seed that these girls can do anything they want," says Valjeanne Estes, the director of Camp $tart-UP, which is run by Independent Means, a Santa Barbara (Calif.) company that creates educational programs to teach girls financial independence.

Camp $tart-UP reinforces its classes on business plans, marketing, finance, operations, and social responsibility with presentations and coaching sessions by successful businesswomen. Students learn how great business ideas often come from personal experience. Dina Chu, co-founder of Boston-based New Basics, which patented a brush-in hair color application, told of how she invented the process because she didn't like what was available.

Under the guidance of a counselor, usually an experienced businesswoman, the campers are divided by age into four groups. They take the classroom material and apply it to their own business plans. At the end of camp, each group presents its plan in front of businesspeople, such as bankers from FleetBoston Financial. There are also field trips to companies such as Catherine Hinds, a cosmetics maker, and sightseeing spots around Boston. Camp $tart-UP is also offered at four other locations nationwide: the Athenian School in Danville, Calif., Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; and Camp Austin in Chisholm, Minn. The Wellesley camp ran $1,600, but as many as 65% of the campers were on scholarships paid for by FleetBoston and the Ladies Professional Golf Assn., among others.

The day I visited, it was crunch time--two days away from the presentations. The executives at Mane St. Scents, maker of shampoos and other hair products in 34 scents, were trying to balance their budget. At Custom Designz, a manufacturer of custom-made jeans, skirts, and swimsuits, the leaders had to consider relocating their facilities when they discovered that rent at their current Boston operation would cost more than their estimated profit for the first year. Those in charge of Athletic Woman, a producer of women's tennis and golf clothes, were deciding whether to outsource their operations to Mexico. And the people who ran Jibba Jabba, a combination music store and bistro, were researching the average price per square foot for a space in New York City and pricing bar stools on eBay.

"Starting a business is a lot of hard work, but I've learned not to get discouraged or give up, and that I can do it," says Valeria Shipp, a 16-year-old from Euclid, Ohio. No doubt, when Shipp returns to school this fall, her essay on "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" is going to read a little different from her peers'.

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By Toddi Gutner

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