BURLINGTON — Every weekday for a month, 13 groups of University of Vermont students have set up tables on campus as part of a course that helps them learn to become entrepreneurs.
They are selling croissants, cookies, bracelets and other products to give them a working knowledge of what it means to run a business. Each group has about 10 members, and each member is given $1. The students pool the money as the stake in their business.
Each business has to be open three hours a day, and all the work is on the students. They must buy any necessary ingredients, oversee preparation and ensure their tables are staffed. The students are also required to perform community service, such as participating in food drives or walking dogs at animal shelters.
Gwendolyn Child, a sophomore from Cambridge. Mass., is part of a group that has been selling croissants in front of the library for two weeks. They prepare the croissants the night before and bake them in the morning.
“We’ve been doing really well, surprisingly,” Child said. “We’ve gotten some big donations.”
Professor Kathleen Liang has been teaching the course since 2005 through the department of community development and applied economics.
“I want them to understand ... that we can make a difference in the community by helping others one day at a time,” Liang said.
In addition to the cash stake, the students can solicit donations. They’ve been supported financially by a Burlington health food supermarket and the campus food service provider.
Any profit is given to charity. In eight years, the projects have donated more than $40,000 to more than 300 charitable organizations.
Some of the groups have had wild success over the years.
One group bought and resold clothes, books and other small gadgets and made $800 in profit in three weeks, Liang said.
Other groups haven’t been as lucky, with two losing all their money by trying to sell T-shirts.
“Most of the people do not purchase multiple T-shirts in a short period of time,” Liang said.
This year’s class already ranks among the best by making a combined profit of more than $1,000 the first week, a record.
“A lot of times people will think, ‘Well, you have to own your business to be an entrepreneur,’ but I am a firm believer that everybody can be,” Liang said. All it takes, she said, is “a chance to learn and to see what it’s like, the challenges and rewards.”
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