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Sherri Richards, Published February 17 2014

Good ideas grow here: School club encourages entrepreneurship in girls

West Fargo -- Sophomore Breanna Lang wants to learn how to write a business plan in case she opens her own law practice one day.

Rukia Santur, a senior, has an idea for an app. She wants to learn more about coding and technology.

And Isabel Toddie, a sophomore, wants to see more women leading Fortune 500 companies.

“I would like to help teenage girls know that they can go into business management and entrepreneurship and get out there and not let that part of the corporate world be dominated by men,” Toddie says.

All are members of a new entrepreneur club for girls in West Fargo.

The Startup Club began meeting in December. Three members of the club took part in Fargo’s recent Women’s Startup Weekend. Club members are planning to take part in Fargo’s next Startup Weekend, March 7-9, too.

A Startup Weekend is an event where participants pitch ideas and teams form around the most popular. They then work throughout the weekend develop the ideas into business plans or actual products.

The team that club members worked on at the Women’s Startup Weekend took third place out of seven developed pitches.

“It was a real eye-opener to the real world,” senior Raveena Goyal says about the weekend.

The Startup Club stemmed from an organization that encourages girls to pursue STEM careers, those in science, technology, engineering and math.

Adam Gehlhar, assistant principal at Cheney Middle School in West Fargo, attended Fargo’s first Startup Weekend last March. He was interim assistant principal at West Fargo High School.

Gehlhar encouraged students to attend, including those who he knew had technical expertise, a knack for design or who were exceptionally creative.

Then he received an email from Carrie Leopold, project lead at Great Plains Girls Collaborative and North Dakota State College of Science STEM outreach coordinator.

The Girls Collaborative Project, which works to strengthen STEM programs, had money available for mini grants.

Gehlhar floated the idea of a Startup Club by Leopold. He thought it could help girls engage in interdisciplinary skills, develop STEM competencies and connect with a network of local entrepreneurs.

While entrepreneurship doesn’t happen solely in STEM fields, the hands-on and problems-based STEM approach to learning is what social entrepreneurship is all about, Leopold says.

“Those careers use this type of thinking,” Leopold says.

STEM learning is also referred to as “21st century skills,” which include creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking.

“Entrepreneurship really uses that same type of mindset. We’re going to look at a problem and how can we really come up with an answer,” Leopold says.

At the Women’s Startup Weekend, the club members, along with Leopold and Amanda Booher, a project manager at Knight Printing, worked on an idea for a tidbit-like publication called “Breaking the Mold.” The content, expanded online, would highlight extraordinary young women, successful businesswomen, fashion, food, technology and academics.

Lang said she thinks the group could have placed higher if the club had more members to show it could sustain “Breaking the Mold.” Leopold says they plan to at least publish a pilot issue this spring.

Leopold says there are several groups and clubs nationally that foster young entrepreneurs, but West Fargo’s club is unique in its Startup focus.

Besides the upcoming

Fargo weekend, club members may also attend Startup Weekends in other communities, says adviser Janae Helvik, a business education teacher at the high school.

Helvik says one of her goals is to expose the members to female entrepreneurs in the Fargo-Moorhead community, either by bringing them in to speak or touring their businesses. They can talk about the advantages and disadvantages of being a business owner from a women’s perspective.

“I think seeing it and hearing it from the firsthand perspective will be beneficial,” Helvik says.

Gehlhar hopes the club will generate enthusiasm, and allow the girls to see themselves in STEM careers, if they so choose.

“It’s still good process thinking. It’s still a good background to be able to solve problems across disciplines,” Gehlhar says.

“Our ideas are so much more rich when we have diversity with them, and right now females are underrepresented in STEM careers,” he adds. “To solve the challenges of the 21st century we’ll need everyone’s ideas and everyone at the table.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556