GREAT FALLS –A woodshop at one Great Falls middle school has taken on an entrepreneurial tone.
GrizzBiz is an Electric City enterprise where 7th and 8th graders are learning what it takes to succeed in business.
“I’ve always been interested in business ownership and entrepreneurship,” said GrizzBiz teacher and founder Pat Volkmar. “I’ve been in both and so I thought it was important to teach kids those values and skills and that’s where GrizzBiz started nine years ago.”
A student in the GrizzBiz program at North Middle School in Great Falls works on a cutting board. (Photo Credit: Tim McGonigal)
Since then, meticulously crafted cutting boards and coasters made by GrizzBiz students have made their way to nearly 20 states and Canada, and GrizzBiz products are a favorite of visitors to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.
Kids with an interest in the program fill out an application, go through an interview process and if selected they’re involved with everything from ordering supplies and marketing to bookkeeping and production, which includes laser engraving. Depending on how much they produce and sell, they even draw a paycheck.
Volkmar says the soft skills learned are the most important.
“They’re indirectly learning those building but when they have to interact with a customer, talk, defend, say what they’re doing that probably drives home what they’re learning,” said Volkmar.
”Trying to bring people to the Farmer’s Market or the fair, you have to get people’s attention and you have ask how their day is,” said Ashlynn Martinez, a GrizzBiz 8th grader.
”It’s teaching me how to work as a team and how to communicate better with others,” said GrizzBiz 7th grader Kailey Williams.
”It gives me leadership knowledge that I can run my own business if I want to run my own business,” said GrizzBiz 8th grader Adam Fleury.
Kids are also learning the importance of letting nothing go to waste.
“In the past, we would, every quarter, get rid of about 20 to 24 barrels of scrap wood,” said Volkmar. “Now we get rid of two. The other 20 some barrels go into coasters which are marketed.”
GrizzBiz is a year-round venture. About 30 kids participate in the summer program which includes a booth at the Farmer’s Market and is highlighted by the State Fair where the students engrave the winning plaques.
During the school year, about 15 kids are employed. Volkmar is already seeing success stories among former GrizzBiz employees.
“I had one talk to the Governor when he was here who has his own lawn care business as a senior in high school that has done astronomical, five-digit figures mowing lawns around Great Falls with a crew of three other people,“ said Volkmar.
GrizzBiz recently expanded, starting a similar program at East Middle School in Great Falls called Ram Enterprises. Volkmar hopes the program continues after he retires.
Volkmar says during the Home and Garden show in the spring the students typically sell 15-hundred coasters.
Each year, in addition to their orders for cutting boards and coasters, the students take on a special project. Last year it was designing a desktop corn hole game.
Volkmar says he likes to make it clear to students he is just an advisor.
“I tell the kids I’m the CEO and the CEO of GM doesn’t sell cars,” said Volkmar. “All he does is make sure GM is here next year so that’s the role I take.”
Volkmar says GrizzBiz has received outstanding support, but the support from the community has been amazing.
-Tim McGonigal reporting for MTN News