Breckenridge students are taking care of business

Anthony Conzemius (left) Gus Hasbargen (right) pose during a field trip to NDSU Research and Technology Park in Fargo, North Dakota. The group toured the building, and listened to guest speakers and entrepreneurs. 

Over the course of this school year, two Breckenridge High School seniors have been busy learning from Twin Towns business leaders, networking and building a viable business plan through Entrepreneurship Opportunities, a new program supported by SVEDA.

The high schoolers meet three times a week to tour businesses around Wahpeton and Breckenridge and work on creating their own mock business, Entrepreneurship Opportunities Director Paige Rudick said.

After a school year of preparation, the duo will present about the program, what they learned and their business plan at a community showcase at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 26 at the City Brew Hall event space.

“Watching the students grow made me most proud. They were really put in an unusual situation. Most students would never be put in front of multiple business owners and entrepreneurs of really huge industries around here,” Rudick said.

Parents, teachers, friends, business leaders, stakeholders and curious community members are encouraged to attend. The event will include appetizers and guest speakers such as SVEDA Executive Director Justin Neppl, CEO of ComDel Innovation Jim Albrecht and WCCO CEO Tom Shorma. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online

“For students creating their own business and writing their own business plan at this young of an age, it’s really impressive that they’re doing it and going through with it. I’d love to see them take it one step further into the future,” Rudick said.

Breckenridge High School senior and program participant Gus Hasbargen has been cooking up an idea for a food truck. The meals on wheels would travel to different businesses during lunch hours to serve employees soups and sandwiches, ideally made from locally-sourced ingredients.

After graduation, Hasbargen plans to attend the University of Minnesota to study agribusiness, but he eventually wants to return to Wahpeton-Breckenridge, he said.

“I decided on a food truck because I’ve always liked cooking and that behind-the-scenes food stuff,” Hasbargen said.

Senior and other program participant Anthony Conzemius’ business plan grew from his love of basketball. A star on the Cowboys court, Conzemius crafted a plan for a basketball training business that targets school-aged youth. The business would offer one-on-one training or team play, and could accommodate individuals looking to improve as well as those looking for a hobby.

One of the best parts of the program has been meeting local business owners and getting a glimpse behind the scenes of familiar places, Conzemius said.

“I like to hear their stories and their ups and downs and their failures and then how they found a way to be successful. All those stories are different and cool to hear,” he said.

Hasbargen and Conzemius said meeting Perry Miller, partial-owner of The Boiler Room, was particularly inspiring. Miller was candid about struggles an entrepreneur may face, but told the seniors not to give up even after failure, Conzemius said.

“The business owners have been super open and super excited,” Rudick said. “Not one of them has ever made it seem like a chore or part of their job to be there. They were really happy to be a part of it and they were really happy to be able to speak with students and engage with students, so there was a lot of support from the businesses.”

Next year, she hopes to involve more businesses in the program and build more of a presence in the towns. Ultimately, she hopes to partner with as many businesses as possible in Richland and Wilkin counties.

Meeting business owners helped the two seniors realize there are people in the Twin Towns who are eager to see them succeed.

For students like Hasbargen, who plan to come back to their hometown after college, the business plan they formed could serve as a blueprint and the connections they made could blossom into a valuable network.

“If people want to own their own business, they should definitely take this program,” Hasbargen said. “You just meet so many people that will be willing to help and willing to lend a hand when you have questions. I’ve noticed a lot of people when we’re at the businesses say, ‘Just let me know if you need any help,’ so I feel like they really, truly mean that.”

Even if the youth don’t end up becoming entrepreneurs post high school, the program is still valuable. Conzemius and Hasbargen said they honed their professional skills like maintaining eye contact, dressing to impress and starting conversations with new people.

“Go for it because in high school not everyone’s sure what they want to be, and I say just try everything while you’re in high school. It doesn't hurt to try,” Conzemius said.

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