Recipe for successful learning

Women mean business.

According to The Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute, the United States is the top country in the work for female entrepreneurs. As of last year, there were 12.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. Women own four out of every 10 U.S. businesses, and they are slightly more likely to start a business than men, according to a SCORE report.


The entrepreneurial bug bites early, too. At Mount St. Mary’s Academy in Kenmore, girls participating in Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship (SAGE) develop their own businesses and may also compete in national and international tournaments.


Girls earn this opportunity by qualifying to be in the Academy Scholars, an honors-level enrichment program for students with time in their busy student schedule and the desire to tackle something new. The Academy Scholars have focused on entrepreneurship over the past few years, and students may opt to participate in SAGE once their businesses are up and running.


SAGE is an international network (there are student teams in 22 countries) dedicated to inspiring the next generation of innovators and social enterprise business owners. Student entrepreneurs are expected to develop a business plan, hire a staff, use creativity and innovation to make social impact, and demonstrate sustainability for their business. At the same time, students are deepening their knowledge of their chosen business and enhancing their soft skills like communication, self-confidence, fortitude, and diplomacy that are necessary for success in business and in life.


Programs like SAGE open up worlds of opportunity for teen girls as they explore career and life pathways. Enrichment programs do more than augment curriculum: they give students an authentic experience in managing their own business.


Teacher Kelsey Novits said, “SAGE is a huge benefit. It’s hands-on learning where students create real businesses and sell products in a high-stakes environment. This brings them into the real world.”

This isn’t an after-school program or a club: it’s structured like a class, scheduled on school time over the lunch break, with an added benefit: “It’s a creative space for students to have workshop time,” said Novits. Giving students hands-on learning is a proven method that reinforces academics by sparking curiosity and creativity.

Principal Katherine Spillman encourages on-school time programs like SAGE, too, because it ties the classroom to the life skills that girls need for success in the world beyond the classroom. “So many of the elements of the program introduce skills that the girls need to develop,” she said. “Brainstorming, resiliency, collaboration: these are skills that girls need.”

Best of all, the girls love it.


Allison Pfeiffer, a 17-year-old senior from Lakeview is the CEO of Stars in Jars Bakery. She launched the business in 2016. “When I first joined the program, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” she said. “I was stress baking one day. I really enjoy baking and I thought I could make people happy with something homemade.” Armed with some of her grandmother’s recipes, Allison had the heart and soul of her enterprise: quality products she could make from scratch. She decided to capitalize on a trend--food served in single-serve glass jars--to give her products a contemporary twist. She had two major hurdles: finding two other team members to share her vision and tenacity, and figuring out the cooking time for individual portions baked in glass, which was a huge departure from her grandmother’s instructions. She finally tapped two Tonawanda sisters--Elizabeth Beamer, 18, and Olivia Beamer, 15, as CFO and director of marketing, respectively, to complete her company.


Together, the trio sources ingredients and supplies (the costliest item is the jar itself, said Elizabeth) and bake 50 units to sell at school every other month. Allison said this schedule helps maintain interest with their key buyers. Anchor flavors are chocolate, vanilla, and red velvet (the consistent best seller, said Allison) and seasonal flavors make their way on the menu, too. To encourage repeat customers while holding costs down, Stars in Jars has a return jar policy: bring back your jar and get a free cake. This also demonstrates that Stars in Jars is a socially responsible business, a SAGE program requirement. In-school promotion and Instagram helps the girls market their products in their school. Olivia is counting on Facebook and outreach to targeted farmer’s markets and craft sales to help Stars in Jars find its expanded network of buyers. They also recognize the importance of giving back, and donate $1 from every unit sold to Mount St. Mary’s Guardian Angel Scholarship Fund.


The team is also focused on growing its product line.


"We are working on gradually incorporating gluten free and organic products,” said Allison. “One of the challenges we are working through is cross-contamination, as well as the added expense of the ingredients. We do, however, see this as a move that is important to the future of the business as people become more conscious of what they eat.”


Growing the business is important to the team, especially to Olivia. She will continue to run the business when Allison and Elizabeth graduate this year. She is already looking for her two new business partners. The recruitment incentive is the success of the current team. She said, “We get along really well. There are no petty fights. It’s a lot of fun.” Allison offers her good advice too, saying new team members “have to be truly interested in the business and what the customer thinks.”


The team is ready for this year’s SAGE competition, too. Having a delicious product is only part of the plan: SAGE teams are judged on their business plans, annual reports, the contemporaneous exchange with the judges who are all business owners, and the overall health of the enterprise.


Mount St. Mary has a great track record: teams from the school were US champions every year since 2015. This is a great honor for the girls and for the school with added benefits.


“I love that our girls are going out into the larger community to collaborate and see what’s happening in our schools,” Spillman said. “They come back to our school and share, and that helps us build on this program.”

Read more articles by Cherie Messore.

Cherie Messore is a native Buffalonian and has longtime experience in the region's vibrant not-for-profit sector with special interests in the cultural community and education. She is also a freelance writer, public relations practitioner, and volunteer docent at Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House.
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