- Associated Press - Monday, January 4, 2016

WESTON, Wis. (AP) - D.C. Everest Senior High senior Lukas Lindner developed portable waxing tables for Nordic and alpine skis. Now, as part of his school’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy, his products are quickly crossing over from the classroom into the real world.

The academy is a hands-on elective course at the high school designed to give students real-world business experience. The 13 participants honed business plans this semester for a range of products and services. They will pitch their products to a panel of investors in March, and many will sell their products next year, if they haven’t started already.

Lindner has already gotten started. He developed his first waxing table for his personal use; he’s a captain on the ski team. And he has orders for 12 waxing tables with custom finishes. He’s contracted a few friends with wood-shop experience to build his product.

“Money management is becoming really real, because not only do I need to pay myself back for the investment that I’ve made,” Lindner said, but also “I want to make sure that my employees get the pay that they need as well.”

The Young Entrepreneurs Academy started in 2004 in New York, and D.C. Everest’s is one of two launching in 2015 in Wisconsin. The Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce is working closely with the high school to make the program work here.

In the first semester of the course, each student developed a concept for his or her product and drafted a business plan with support from mentors - members of the local business community.

Sophomore Laney Hughes, whose business features custom-designed, embroidered clothing, worked with Sarah Kapellusch, a learning coordinator at Northcentral Technical College, and said she thought it was cool to have a female mentor through the process. Hughes said she has been asking a lot of questions of her mentor. “There’s so much to learn from her.”

Lindner’s mentor, Abby Bank Senior Vice President Craig Stuedemann, told Daily Herald Media (https://wdhne.ws/1R5OCgJ ) he has been posing a lot of hard questions to his young entrepreneur: “Who’s going to buy your product? What if it doesn’t work?”

Stuedemann has seen a lot of business plans in his line of work. The students’ focus and drive excited him, and so did Lindner’s actual product. Stuedemann is a downhill skier himself.

“When I saw his prototype, it just hit me, that ‘wow, this is going to work,’” Stuedemann said. “I would definitely purchase his product.”

Hughes had a bit of a head start on her project. She already sells hand-embroidered clothes online through Etsy, an Internet marketplace for homemade and vintage goods. Through the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, Hughes is polishing her products and fleshing out a vision for her business.

“In the past, I haven’t really planned for anything,” she said of her enterprise. She’s a hobby artist and thought starting an Etsy shop would be fun. Plus she wanted to emulate her father who started a sports memorabilia shop at age 15.

The class and her classmates’ work is more professional than Hughes anticipated, she said. Some of her peers are seeking manufacturers for their products.

She now has a business plan that features her qualifications, data on her target market, a strategy to acquire and keep customers as well as financials, including the cost and profit per product and the cost to package and ship it.

In her free time, Hughes is designing clothing for a new line she wants to release in March, including T-shirts, shorts, jackets and hats. “That’s the side I like the most,” she said of the design process.

She’s incorporating a lot of color into “weird, artsy” ideas-turned-drawings that her embroidery machine will translate onto fabric. The machine and its software are recent investments into Hughes’ new business, she said. They’ll take her previously handmade work to a new level of precision and speed.

The class has helped Hughes become, in her words, “not stingy, but smart” with her decision making. And she bounces ideas off friends, who help model her products, and her older brother. “When he likes something, I know that it’s quality, good stuff,” she said.

Classmates also bounce ideas off each other, and that has helped Lindner name his company, Peak Waxing, and develop the slogan: “We’ll meet you at the top.”

“We’ve all just been able to help each other,” Lindner said. The process is also helping him learn to balance school, work and extracurriculars.

“If my grades my grades start to slip in a class I need to focus on that more,” he said. “So it’s all a learning opportunity, whether it be in the world of business or just life itself.”

Lindner’s already reached out to ski teams for feedback. He and his classmates will focus on marketing next. They’ll have websites up by March, said Sara Guild, the program manager for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy and Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce’s government affairs and workforce development director. That’s the month the students will pitch their businesses to a panel of local investors.

Guild is currently looking for more panelists, with real money to spend on the students’ businesses.

“When they get back after Christmas, the fun starts,” Guild said. “We’re really going to be seeing what they’re capable of starting now.”

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Information from: Wausau Daily Herald Media, https://www.wausaudailyherald.com

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