Emerging entrepreneurs

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A few times a month, teachers at Forest Park High head to the school cafeteria for one of Moya Maddox's breakfasts, which range from a simple bowl of grits to the works: a plate piled high with eggs, bacon and pancakes, plus juice.

Maddox, a junior at Forest Park in Northwest Baltimore, sells the breakfasts during two class periods reserved for her business and catering courses. With the help of a teacher and business mentor, she is trying to figure out whether she can turn her small enterprise into a larger business.

The 16-year-old is one of hundreds of students who take entrepreneurship classes in the city's middle and high schools. Teachers are trained in the curriculum by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, a nonprofit group that set up shop in Baltimore last school year.

On Friday, Maddox and five other students - the ones whose ideas were deemed the most solid by the nonprofit organization - will dress to impress, stand before company executives in a Fells Point boardroom and deliver PowerPoint presentations of their business plans.

By then, they'll know their plans inside-out. They'll explain what kinds of customers they are targeting, defend their labor cost calculations and answer questions about how they calculated their return on investment.

The winner of the competition will get $1,000, to be used as business seed money or for any other purpose. The other students will receive amounts varying from $100 to $500 for making it this far.

Last week, however, as Maddox and the others waited to meet mentors who would help them fine-tune their plans, the students had doubts about whether they would be able to pull off their presentations. They sat in cubicles in a corner of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter's Fells Point office, which had been lent to the group for the evening.

"A little nervous," said Charles Johnson, also a junior at Forest Park, when his teacher, Shirley Cook, asked him how he was feeling. "This is my first time showing it."

Johnson loosened up when he saw how patient and supportive his mentors - a Morgan Stanley analyst and an M&T; Bank executive - were as he gave them his pitch about starting a firm that sells designs for sports attire to companies such as Nike and Under Armour.

At a nearby cubicle, Walbrook High senior Dana Monroe, 17, and his mentor, Jason Hardebeck, chief executive officer of Whoglue Inc., a Fells Point software firm, puzzled over how to differentiate the student's idea for a carwash business from existing services.

By the end of the two-hour session, the mentors seemed more worked up than the students about the plans.

Greg Major, another Morgan Stanley analyst, found himself vehemently defending Maddox's Sweet Treats Cafe proposal. The others told him she needed to pay rent and utilities, even though her business was based in the school cafeteria for now.

"I think you have to create those costs if they don't exist," said Hardebeck.

Major finally relented. He sat back down next to Maddox, and they drew up a more realistic financial plan. Later Maddox said she felt more confident about her business plan, thanks to Major's help. But the evening opened her eyes to the challenges of being an entrepreneur.

Would she start her cafe for real?

"That I'm still contemplating," she said, "because it's hard work."

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