Inspiring budding entrepreneurs

Lenihan XLP students learn how to run a business

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Earlier this week, students in Vanessa Engel’s Lenihan Intermediate School XLP program were visited by Kim and Jerry Gratopp, owners of Smokin’ G’s. The couple answered questions about what it takes to run a small business. The pupils have been working all year on designing their own hypothetical local businesses, which will be revealed at the end of the school year in a final presentation.

“I really like how this project integrates a lot of subjects into one, and combines skills sets.”

These are the words of Lenihan Intermediate School XLP (Extended Learning Program) instructor Vanessa Engel, in describing her class’ fourth annual business project, wherein the pupils create hypothetical small businesses and figure out the ins and outs of entrepreneurship.

Engel said the participants use geometry, budgeting, interviewing and social skills, among other abilities.

The students, working alone or in pairs, have spent the whole school year brainstorming and researching their concepts.

“For the first two years [doing this project] I had students work solely on designing restaurants, but these last two years I have let them branch out to other types of businesses,” Engel said.

In addition to eateries, the students are also mapping out toy stores and advertisement firms. Using real available rental properties in Marshalltown as their examples, the students, which total 12, have figured out how much square footage will be needed to properly run their businesses. Using 5D computer software, their blueprints come to life.

The youths are aided in their approach by real-life business owners who come and present to the class, offering insight and advice.

Working with an imaginary budget of $5,000, the pupils are planning out the following elements: menus, recipes, inventory, building layout/design, advertisements, staff payment, rent, and final products to sell.

Earlier this week, Kim and Jerry Gratopp, owners of Smokin’ G’s BBQ Restaurant, visited with the class, as they have done in years past.

“Kim and Jerry were kind enough to come in and share their experience of starting and running their local restaurant business,” Engel said. “Students were prepared with interview questions ranging from the payment of staff to what inspired them to build their business. One focus the students had was on how much it really costs to pay staff per hour, when you figure in wage, social security, insurance and workers’ compensation. We’re working on the mathematics of all that.”

Additional guest speakers are slated to speak to the class, at times to be determined. The students will present their final projects in May.

“I like having different professionals come in and speak,” Engel added. “The Gratopps told our learners that one should not expect to be able to do everything by themselves, that sometimes it is important to know your strengths and weaknesses.”


Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or