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Future Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs

No other single factor will have a greater impact on the future Rochester business climate than the leadership skills and business knowledge developed by the next generation of employees and entrepreneurs. One of the most important elements impacting skills development is the ability to reach and engage students in their high school years, especially in the case of underrepresented minority students. Honing minority students' problem-solving, leadership and basic business skills, and introducing real-world project work will help to build interest in business as a career. In addition, these young people will be better prepared for the next level of study if they choose to attend college, or better prepare them to enter the workforce after graduation from high school. Research has shown that minority youth are significantly impacted by the experience of interacting with someone from a similar background in a leadership position.

"I do believe I will use everything that I learned in this program...I learned how to be a team player."

- Charmaine Walker
Graduate East High School, FBLE Participant

The Saunders College of Business at RIT is partnering with Rochester-area minority-owned businesses and corporations with minority leaders in a summer program to reach high school students in the Rochester City School District (RCSD). The Future Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs (FBLE) is designed to help RCSD juniors and seniors develop important business skills by working with RIT faculty and Saunders College business students on a project addressing an important need for a local company. Students work on a real-world problem and help develop plans that will actually be executed by the business partner. Moving students from textbook and theory to real business experience is the key to success.

The FBLE is a win-win for everyone involved. Saunders College faculty and business students will work with the business partner to develop cost-effective solutions and a plan that the business partner can execute. Simultaneously, qualified high school students participate in two concentrated business workshops that focus on team management and client interaction skills. These students are given the business partner's project as a case study, and work alongside the SCB faculty and business students as the project is analyzed, solutions are developed, and a final plan written to present to the business partner–the "client." The business partner receives a low-cost consultation with SCB faculty and business students, and helps the high school students gain valuable insight into business life.

The FBLE was piloted during the summer of 2009. One project from the initial effort included investigating the target market and best marketing methods for a local insurance business. The students brought a fresh perspective to this full-service insurance agency, encouraging the company to reach more parents with children who were turning 16 years of age, and reach more people who were purchasing a car and needed automotive insurance for the first time. The FBLE team developed a new marketing plan for the business partner based on data for the younger target audience segment. The team developed a strong, coordinated online presence, including a Facebook page and online communications efforts. The project was a great example of the unique perspective the student teams can bring to businesses. Another project in the pilot program included a local manufacturing business that wanted to maintain competitiveness while continuing to use local labor, instead of the inexpensive outsourcing by competitors. Students assessed the labor rates in various countries and recommended that the manufacturer focus on quality and efficiency throughout their marketing efforts. In addition, the students explored the under-utilization of the company's Enterprise Resource Planning System and made recommendations to improve the company's use of the system.

The FBLE is a 12-week summer program that meets in Saturday sessions. Some sessions are joint working sessions with faculty, Saunders College students, and the high school students; others are separate sessions with high school students learning business concepts while Saunders College students work on higher level data analysis and planning. An important part of the program is the end presentation, during which the students meet directly with the "client" to outline their solution in a professional presentation.

The pilot program was positively received by students, teachers and businesses-people. As Anibal Solar, Principal of East High School, FBLE School Partner, explained: "The students gained important skills that they weren't exposed to enough through their academic career." Bill Rose, Owner of Datrose Business Process Outsourcing, explained that real work experience is key to future success: "When I started my company 33 years ago, I learned on the job. It's wonderful to see high school students that have ability in a program that allows them to learn about business and to make the decision about whether they want to go to a business school. I would recommend this to any business."

The FBLE is a wonderful opportunity for minority-owned businesses to cost-effectively develop solutions to current business problems, while supporting minority high school students in their efforts to develop business skills and experience that will help them as they continue their studies or pursue careers after graduation.

Partner: Rochester City School District