The farmers' market in downtown Las Cruces is a popular spot for both shoppers and vendors to spend a Saturday morning. It’s also the destination for middle school students to sell handmade arts and crafts as part of running their own businesses.
About a dozen middle school students took part in Camp Innoventure, a weeklong summer program hosted by New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center. Campers learn the basics of starting a business in areas such as branding, marketing and finance. Students make what they want from decorative candles to dreamcatchers and keep what they earn at the farmer’s market.
It’s Lynn Middle School seventh grader Abbey Charity’s second year in the program. After selling recycled journals last year, the 12-year-old entrepreneur said this time around she’s making bath bombs.
“Well I know bath bombs are really popular right now and I like using them so I figured some people would like using them. I also see them a lot at the farmer’s market so I know they sell well there,” Charity said.
Available in scents like grapefruit, lemon and lavender, Charity is selling small bath bombs for $3 each while large ones go for $6.
Camp Innoventure Deputy Program Director Lydia Hammond has taught campers for three years how to develop their businesses and bring products to market. Hammond said that creative freedom to sell what they choose allows students to experiment with their creations.
“So while they’re learning these business skills and these business concepts, they’re really having a much deeper experience because they’re getting this identification of ‘I did something. I made a product. I took it through from start to finish and here I am getting some money for what I’ve created,'" Hammond said. "So there’s a sense of ownership and pride I think is really fundamentally what we’re teaching these kids as well as math, business basics, those types of things.”
The camp provides students with $25 gift cards to purchase supplies for their products. But some students have larger goals with the money. 10-year-old Emma Enoch, a sixth grader at Picacho Middle School, chose to construct lamps that charge phones and other electronic devices.
“It cost $87 to build it and so my dad is wanting me to go a little higher, but not that much people have that much money in their wallet at the time at the farmer’s market. So I thought maybe you could, like maybe $90? Not much above it but somewhat more,” Enoch said.
Along with the lamps, Enoch also made bracelets and dog collars to sell for $5 apiece. Hammond said many times students come in with innovative ideas but soon realize their budgets limit them to come up with something more practical.
“So, I think there’s a lot of high expectations and we’re going to build cell phone charging lamps that also reduce energy and you’re like ‘That’s great! Can you build it in a week with $25?’ So, the kids have that experience of ‘Okay, well I got to try something different. I got to try something new. I have to tinker with this idea a little bit more,’ but it’s in a fun, a fun capacity,” Hammond said.
Hammond said a two-year, $350,000 Daniels Fund grant has helped expand Camp Innoventure to 16 camps in New Mexico and West Texas, with more than 170 kids participating this year. Charity said her experiences have her considering going into business when she’s older.
“I’ve been thinking about it. My whole life I’ve kind of wanted to be a singer and musician. But doing these kinds of camps, it makes me think of other options because being a singer and musician isn’t necessarily a good income source at first,” Charity said.
Whether or not they make a profit, Hammond said she hopes kids who take part in the camp come away with the satisfaction of seeing their projects through to the end.
“Even if the kid makes not a single dollar on Saturday, that experience of taking ownership and putting my ideas out there in the world, which can be really scary, I think each of our kids will walk away with that empowerment that moves them forward and helps them become future entrepreneurs hopefully," Hammond said.
While the money is a plus, campers successfully learning the skills they need to operate an enterprise is the real bottom line.