Camp for Tomorrow's Moguls

You're never too young to learn how to run a business. Summer may be just the time to take the first step

Slide Show >>

Why play Xbox when you can build a business? That is 15-year-old John De Angelis' philosophy. He has started charging residents of his small Iowa town to sell their unwanted products on eBay (EBAY) and to convert their VHS tapes to DVDs. Both ventures started as weeklong summer projects for the Jacobson Entrepreneurship Camp and garnered $1,800 in profits over the past two years.

"What America needs right now are small-business owners and great entrepreneurs. Some people think kids are too young and can't start a business, but they can," asserts De Angelis.

GETTING AN EDGE. De Angelis has strong passion for a high school freshman but is by no means the only teenager looking to obtain a career jumpstart during summer vacation. According to the American Camp Assn. (ACA), an increasing number of kids are attending business-oriented camps in hope of skills that will better prepare them for the future than tennis or soccer lessons.

Business camps are sprouting across the country and are geared toward 8- to 19-year-olds. Campers learn about the complex concepts covered in many undergraduate B-schools -- how to start a business, financial planning, negotiations, marketing, economics, and profit and loss. The list continues.


  Since attendees are young, instructors -- usually graduate students, educators, or certified financial planners -- often employ interactive teaching methods and group work.

At Millionaire Kids Camp in North Tarrant County, Tex., owner Sherry Rhoades uses role-playing to explain how career choice corresponds to cash flow. "I ask so many 15-year-olds what they're going to do when they grow up and they say, 'Work at the dollar store.' Well, then they're going to live in a trailer and drink beer all day," says Rhoades, a CFP. At her camp, children begin to understand that cries of "I want" come with a price tag.

So why are children learning life lessons so early? For starters, this has been one of the most competitive years ever for college admissions, with Ivy Leagues and other top universities accepting a record low number of applicants. More of today's parents have earned higher degrees and want their children to measure up to their peers. "There's a need for parents and children to well-define the direction they want to take," says Laurel Barrie, founder of the Camp Connection consulting company. "They are going past the general academic-enrichment programs."


  Internships are often hard to find. So for high school students who want to showcase their interest in business, or find a topic for a college admissions essay, business camps can be the answer. They can also act as a precursor to college, giving students an idea of whether a business major is the right fit.

Several camps allow kids to create, run, and dismantle a business in weeks or days. Though it sounds simple, running a lemonade stand at CANDO Youth Business Camp is anything but easy. Before hitting the streets, teams come up with a vision, performance goals, insurance needs, and exit strategies. They make presentations in front of a loan officer, and if the proposal is rejected, it is back to the drawing board.

Camp Start-up will kick off this year at Drexel University, and another camp of the same name is geared toward female teens. At the Jacobson Entrepreneurship Camp, which 15-year-old De Angelis attended, elementary and middle school students come up with their own ideas -- everything from a jewelry-making business to Web-based projects. Prizes up to $100 are awarded to older campers.


  Though some business camps provide nonacademic activities, the majority of campers' time is spent working, which may not be as beneficial as camp owners would like parents to think. "It's very important for kids in the summertime to get away from study, to get away from a lot of high-pressure activities, to get away from technology, and get back to the basics," says ACA president Ann Sheets, whose group is the official camp accreditation organization. "There are too many times we don't let our children play outside. Camp is a safe environment."

The ACA has accredited 2,400 camps, none of which are geared toward business. Accreditation is based on more than 300 factors, including staffing, programming, and food service. However, it can take a few years for a camp to get settled in and apply to the ACA. Since many of the business facilities are new, camp owners can try to become accredited in the near future. The future business leaders attending the programs will see to that.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.