Learning how to be flexible, having a back-up plan and being able to see the same concept from different viewpoints are some of the benefits recent Garden City High School graduate Gustavo Feria has derived from his experience in the Young Entrepreneurs program.

Offered as a year-long class at Garden City High School that teaches business and entrepreneurship, Youth Entrepreneurs began in Wichita in 1991 and was founded by Liz Koch. It is now in 30 Kansas high schools and one in Independence, Mo. The class is taught by an existing teacher and offers students elective credit, Southwest Region Manager Kylie Boyd said.

The class, which started three years ago at GCHS, teaches students how to develop a business plan and communication skills, in addition to taking them on field trips to businesses and bringing in guest speakers to talk about their experiences.

The program also features business partnerships, which are internships, so youngsters can apply the skills they learned in class to help the business.

Two students are at Hutton Construction, one at Garden City Arts and others at the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce.

The program's goals are to provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to start their own businesses; teach them how to apply those skills to become better employees; and encourage them to continue on to higher education, according to a Youth Entrepreneurs pamphlet.

"It's called Youth Entrepreneurs, but we're not just creating entrepreneurs. We're creating employees who think like owners," Boyd said. "We give them an opportunity to run a mini-business at the beginning of the year. They choose a product to sell at lunch. It takes about eight weeks. They use that as a baseline lesson for the rest of the year. It teaches teamwork because they do this in a team."

The teacher, in this case Juan Neri, is the venture capitalist offering the students loans.

The teams are usually anywhere from two to four students, and there are 15 to 16 teams at GCHS selling during lunch. On average, the profit is $300 to $400 a group, Boyd said.

Students decide as a team what to sell.

"It's very student driven," Boyd said. "We're trying to teach kids initiative, self-responsibility, so when they get to the business plan portion, they come up with ideas on their own. At the end of the year, they compete with their business plans and they get to earn a scholarship or venture capital money. One of our Garden City students (Feria) this year got to compete in the final competition in Wichita."

There are three levels of competition classroom, regional and final, Boyd said. Feria's business was called Total Design, and it was a custom furniture business.

Classes usually have 25 students each, and there are about 25 volunteers who mentor the students who also help judge business plans and scholarship applications, Boyd said. This past year, Palmer Manufacturing founder Cecil O'Brate donated 15 scholarships.

"He believes very strongly in the program," Boyd said.

In southwest Kansas, she said, Youth Entrepreneurs has granted more than $73,000 in scholarships or venture capital. Program-wide, $127,750 was awarded. If youngsters win a scholarship, the funds are sent to the school they plan to attend, and if it's venture capital, youngsters have to return the receipts they spend on their businesses.

The program is nonprofit, so it's funded by the community.

"We couldn't be here without the Finnup Foundation, Western Kansas Community Foundation, Palmer Manufacturing, Cecil O'Brate. We've got lots of businesses within the community like WindRiver Grain and Western Motors. We've had lots of businesses pitch in because they know these kids are future business leaders," Boyd said.

It's also a tool to help entice young people to return to Garden City after earning their college degrees.

Feria, 19, who graduated from GCHS this spring, took the YE course his senior year. This summer, he's interning at Hutton Construction, LZ Equipment, which makes caging systems for zoos and livestock, and with Blaine Davis of Architecture Plus. He works with Davis in the mornings, LZ in the afternoons and Hutton Construction on Tuesdays. He started at LZ in December and with Davis and Hutton Construction this summer.

"It's been a great experience," Feria said, adding his boss has told him to think like a builder and draw like an architect. That way, the design is practical.

He got interested in the course after hearing about it from friends who had taken it their junior year. They told Feria they got a lot of good experience that was different from taking a regular business or accounting class. The hands-on opportunities to set up a business at school with items to be sold at lunch hour was one experience that stuck with him.

"It's a lot of numbers; a lot of figuring out," he said.

Through the class, he's learned the value of thinking things through, being flexible and having a back-up plan.

"I'm really happy I got into it. The only thing I wish I'd done differently is taken it the year before," he said.

Feria plans to attend the University of Oregon and pursue a double major of architecture and Spanish.

Recent GCHS graduate Lindy Bilberry also went through the course and said it was one of the best courses she took in high school.

"It taught me real-world skills like budgeting and marketing. I know that these skills, unlike some that I learned in other high school classes, will be skills that will be important for the rest of my life. Mr. Neri is a great teacher that has an excitement for what he's teaching and helps students to be excited as well," Bilberry said in an email to The Telegram.

"YE also takes really good care of their alumni. I recently was awarded a scholarship through them, and I have taken part in a few of their alumni events. These really help put you in touch with mentors in the business world, as well as with each other. I am really thankful that I had the opportunity to take part in such a wonderful program," Bilberry said.

Neri said the biggest changes he's seen in students is attendance and overall improvement in academics, along with excitement about their futures.

Bob Tempel, general manager of WindRiver Grain, is a big supporter of YE.

His son, Tanner, took the class and now has his own auto detailing business, Dazzle Detailing, which he runs with his friend, Alexis Balderama. The two will pick up cars, detail them and return them. In the process, not only do they learn about keeping a business afloat and sustainable, but things like customer service, customer preference and communication.

"Having small businesses that will develop and grow with young people is vital to the survival of the community. Looking at the U.S. economy overall, if we don't continue to do these things, are we going to import everything?" Tempel said.

Tempel noted that even if a local business is competition for one of the YE kids, the established business people still are willing to help them.

Justin Shaddix, who farms and has Premier Alfalfa, a grinding operation that grinds feed for feedyards, uses Tanner Tempel's business. Shaddix said Tempel's business is well run. The young businessman is good about telling people when he's going to pick up people's vehicles, how long the detailing will take and when he's going to return them.

"He's very prompt and very professional," Shaddix said.