- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

Like many successful entrepreneurs, Mena Lofland talks a good game.

In conversation, the Suitland High School teacher pridefully lists the accomplishments of former students. It’s her way of encouraging the next generation.

Business plans and jumbo replicas of prize checks awarded students in her course on entrepreneurship cover the walls of Ms. Lofland’s first-floor classroom.

“Two of my kids just bought their mom a house with the money they’ve made,” said Ms. Lofland, who has taught her entrepreneurship course in one form or another for more than 40 years. “Another of my students just became their mother’s supervisor.”

Ms. Lofland is the teacher of seven winners of the National Business Plan Competition, a contest that selects the best designed and most feasible business plan from high schoolers across the nation each semester.

The competition is sponsored by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), a New York nonprofit organization, and the SmithBarney investment firm. The winner receives a $10,000 prize and a serious step ahead of the competition in the business world. Ms.Lofland says her goal is to get 10 winners.

This semester, Jerome Addison, a 17-year-old senior at Suitland from Capitol Heights is up for the prize after winning the Greater Washington regional competition. He bakes, designs and sells cakes, including several multitiered wedding cakes.

Addison,who said he hopes to own a restaurant one day, has been making cakes since he was in grammar school, but did not know how to make his culinary skill an actual money-making venture until he entered Ms. Lofland’s class at another teacher’s suggestion.

“I learned to bake from my grandmother and my mom,” said Addison, who is counting on his cake sales to help pay the tuition at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute in Pittsburgh. “But I never thought I could sell them.”

His regular one-layer cakes sell for $40, while more intricately designed multitier cakes can cost up to $80 per tier. Most cakes take about two hours to decorate using his homemade frostings, he said.

A lifelong educator who spent 35 years in the D.C. public school system before moving to Prince George’s six years ago, Ms. Lofland started out teaching marketing in grammar school.

Since then, she has taught several other teachers the basics of her entrepreneurship course, already training two others to teach it at Suitland.

Ms. Lofland, who teaches strategies for success and business English communication in addition to entrepreneurship, relies on the real world for her grades; each entrepreneurship student is given $50 in start-up money and required to try to sell their products as well as submit a 21-pagebusiness plan. Many students don’t sell anything their first time around.

“Failure is an important part of the process,” said Ms. Lofland, who lives in Cheverly. “If they don’t ever get their behind bumped, they will never know what bumping your behind is about.”

All the while Ms. Lofland tries to make her class as close to a Fortune 500 boardroom as possible, sometimes requiring the students dress in suits and ties and making sure they can deliver their business plans in front of an audience.

She also takes the class to New York to see some of the great monuments to entrepreneurship and wholesale shopping in action.

“It’s often like going from Ocean City to the Caribbean,” said Ms. Lofland.

“They had no idea there was this whole other world out there,” she said.

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