MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Thursday, October 20th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: young entrepreneurs.
More and more teens these days are looking to start their own businesses. Junior Achievement USA found that 60 per cent of teens want to be entrepreneurs.
BROWN: But starting your own business doesn’t happen on its own. A nonprofit in Wichita, Kansas, is helping students kickstart their lawn mowing businesses – and grow their character while they’re at it. WORLD’s Lauren Dunn has the story.
LAUREN DUNN, REPORTER: Karina Mekhtieva is in 9th grade. She started mowing yards five years ago.
KARINA: When I first started, I had like three customers. And then when COVID hit like, I had only one.
At church, she heard about Student Startup, a nonprofit that would help students start lawn mowing businesses and find clients. She signed up this year, and convinced her younger brother to sign up, too.
KARINA: We usually split our like our work. So he does the backyard most of the time and I do the front yard.
Her brother Rizo Mekhtiev is 13. He says he likes working with his sister, but the job isn’t always easy.
RIZO: I do not like it when it's very hot. That's my least favorite thing when it's hot, and the grass just comes flying at you. But that's like, the only thing I don't like – the rest is just awesome.
Student Startup helps students get the equipment they need and coaches them in business skills. It also provides one very important aspect of a new business: clients. Joe Woodward started the group with a friend in 2017.
WOODWARD: Without customers, you don't have a business. And so we are that matchmaker between entrepreneurial young people, and homeowners who want to give students an opportunity, they just don't know where to find the good ones. So capital coaching and customers is sort of our recipe for our program.
First they worked with two students. Then six, then 20. Now almost 60 students are participating in the program. Students ages 13-19 typically work with the program for 18 months to two years.
Staff are very clear that this is a Christian organization, but youth are not required to attend church or agree with Christian teaching. Woodward estimates about only about half of their students regularly attend church.
WOODWARD: How do you set yourself apart from the other options? How do you create additional value? And then taking it one more step? It's, what would Jesus do if he was doing this work?
Students can join the program for free, but the group gets a percentage of their earnings when they provide a customer for the student. Currently about 20 percent of its budget is from acquisition fees. The rest comes from fundraising.
The program originally grew out of staff members’ desire to help boys become men. They want to help teens see themselves as producers rather than consumers.
WOODWARD: Much of what the world defines as being a man is based on what you consume. It's drink this, drive that, do this – it’s all based on what you're consuming makes you a man. That's like, that's, that's silly. It's based on what you produce, which really shows that you're an adult, not a little boy anymore.
But the program works for girls, too.
WOODWARD: We've had a handful of girls, we had one girl who was running circles around the boys, she was making $5,000 a month with her lawn mowing business. She was incredible.
About two years ago, they added another program for girls who want to learn to babysit. And this summer, the group added another option for students who have their own business ideas.
But most students choose to enter the mowing program. Starting in January, the staff recruits teens for the program, often from entrepreneurship classes at the local public schools.
Working with teens isn’t always easy. Sometimes clients call Student Startup to let them know a job wasn’t done right. Woodward says this is where coaching comes in.
WOODWARD: You gotta go take this kid out to lunch, or better yet go with him on his job, and correct him on these on these areas. And again, it's the opportunity to get to the heart of thing.
Woodward says another big challenge is a lack of transportation. Often staff members and volunteers need to help students with getting them – and their equipment – to clients.
Wyatt Abell is a college student studying industrial engineering at Wichita State University. He’s thinking about going into seminary. This summer, he worked full-time coaching students in the lawnmowing program.
ABELL: My coaching with students is more shoulder to shoulder like training them, you know, how to mow a lawn, how to edge how to trim, and do a good job…and then continues to you know, conversations in the car, things like that and helping develop them spiritually and morally.
Abell recommends the students read or listen to books like Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse and What is Reformed Theology by RC Sproul. Students aren’t required to complete the audiobooks, but they receive $50 for each book they read.
Karina and Rizo say they’ve learned a lot about how to get the job done.
RIZO: Never cut the grass too short. Do it in a very nice and neat way, so your customer knows you're a good person and you'll do the best and their lawn will look good. Always blow, make sure everything's clean. Make sure nothing's in the yard before starting to cut so you don't break or damage anything.
Thanks to Student Startup, the siblings now have five regular customers. At first Wyatt Abell drove them to their lawn mowing clients. But then Karina and Rizo used their job profits to buy a bike trailer. Now, they can carry their mower to their jobs. That will work for now—though Karina hopes to have her own car next year. In the meantime, the duo is still splitting the work—and the fun.
KARINA: Whoever finishes first mowing and trimming gets the blower. And if we finish at the same time, we kind of fight over it. We make up these jokes and whoever roasts each other more gets the blower.
Today, Rizo won. The siblings pack up their mower for the first time on their new trailer. It’s a satisfying end to a job well done.
AUDIO: [Blower noise]
RIZO: My favorite part is just looking at the finished work and saying, Wow, we came in and it was all full grown. And now it's like, all clean.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Lauren Dunn in Wichita, Kansas.
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