Twenty-two teen entrepreneurs participating in Nebraska’s Future Builders Challenge completed an intensive, month-long internship with the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Clifton Strengths Institute to gain the skills fundamental to becoming their own future business owners and industry leaders. They launched their Lincoln Builders T-shirt business on June 27 and after one week of sales, they sold nearly $8,150 in shirts, shattering sales of previous Future Builders cohorts in Washington, D.C., Mexico City and Omaha, Nebraska.
“This experience has been life changing for us. It has helped provide the builders of the future with the knowledge, practice and guidance needed to become future entrepreneurs, inventors and CEOs,” said future builder Ashley Clegg, a recent graduate of Lincoln East High School and an incoming marketing major at Nebraska.
The internship is a four-part program through which the Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools collaborated with the Lincoln community to help students in finding their full entrepreneurial potential and developing leadership skills. The cadre of 22 students was selected from more than 3,200 local students assessed through Gallup’s Builder Profile 10, which identifies people’s dominant talents showing aptitude to become an entrepreneur, innovator and builder.
“The Future Builders have been challenged to learn about their strengths through practice. Whether they were coordinating events in the classroom or selling T-shirts, students were able to see how they naturally excel,” said Taylor Lofdahl, program coordinator of the Clifton Strengths Institute. “Using this knowledge, the Future Builders were asked to create their teams at each step of the process, acknowledging their talents and those of their peers to accomplish the best individual and team goals to create a successful business.”
Students first considered T-shirt designs that work to address the three goals outlined by Prosper Lincoln: What the community should do to ensure youth are successful, maintain economic growth and keep a strong and vibrant community. Their four T-shirt designs explored themes of positivity, equality, the environment and "power the future."
“They had to work with The Strengths Lab (the nonprofit which leads builders programs internationally) in Washington, D.C., to take out a $5,000 loan,” said Samantha Kennelly, assistant director of the Clifton Strengths Institute and co-teacher of the program. “They worked with Pixel Bakery and Ink Alley to create the shirts and then started selling. T-shirt buyers were told about the positive meanings to impact social change behind the T-shirt designs, and knew that by wearing any of the T-shirts, they were showing their support of not only these students but for building a better community.”
After solidifying their designs, the students’ attention turned to marketing and sales. Popup sales at The Foundry, formerly known as the Nonprofit Hub, and Jazz in June were complemented by online sales. Success came quickly.
“Within less than 48 hours of having our shirts, we sold 150 of them. Then we sold $5,000 in shirts in four business days and repaid our loan,” said Sam Hurt, a sophomore at Lincoln Southwest High School.
The first shirt to sell out, the “Bee Happy” shirt raised awareness about saving pollinators and is a nod to builder Ryan Jensen’s family beekeeping business, Jensen Brothers Bees.
“For our shirt to be the first to sell out is kind of crazy because we had to change the shirt’s design after feedback in our loan approval process. Selling out gave me goosebumps because it meant people realize that bees help everything. They are so important,” said Jensen, who is a sophomore at Lincoln North Star High School.
The students officially launched their business at an event hosted at the College of Business that included a runway show of their T-shirt designs. As part of the runway show, the builders gave a powerful presentation explaining the meaning behind the equality shirt. Derek Branch, a sophomore at Lincoln Southeast High School, and five students shared values they aspire Lincolnites to embrace.
“The next time you witness or experience a moment of inequality, we want to challenge you to have the courage to say, ‘I value you,’ ‘I embrace you,’ ‘I celebrate you,’ and ‘I love you.’ This is the Lincoln we want to build,” he said.
With support from corporate sponsors to mentorship leaders from the university, Gallup, and the local business community, the students completed the program after having developed their strengths, entrepreneurial skills and leadership potential.
“The collaborative partnership between the university, local high schools, Prosper Lincoln and the many sponsors made for such a rich experience for the students. They were exposed to what makes Lincoln special: the cooperation among stakeholders to invest in the community and create opportunities for young people,” said Laura McLeod, assistant professor of practice in marketing and co-teacher of the Future Builders in Lincoln.
The program was sponsored by Gallup, Nelnet, Spreetail, Bill Cintani, Lincoln Industries, The Jim and Penny Krieger Family Foundation, Prosper Lincoln, Don't Panic Labs, Ameritas, Lincoln Community Foundation, Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools, Assurity Life Insurance Company, The Strengths Lab, Accelerate Nebraska and the Clifton Strengths Institute at the College of Business.