St. Charles Herald-Guide

Put a bow on it

Kyle Barnett - April 21, 2013

The River Region Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring students across the region in helping guide them through the creation of their own small businesses.

One Destrehan girl, 11-year-old Hope Tobin, has taken advantage of the program to start her own hair bow business. Her success illustrates the many different faces of the program.

The Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) began at the University of Rochester in 2004 and since 2008 has spread to many sites throughout the country including the River Region.

St. Charles Parish Chief Administrative Officer Buddy Boe was chosen to head up the local program.

"I am looking forward to helping these future business owners turn their idea into a reality," Boe said. "The program is filled with exciting experiences and we are hoping the entire River Region will support our young entrepreneurs."

To take part in the selective program students first had to submit applications including an entrance essay, school transcripts, letters of recommendation from academic mentors and attend a personal interview with a student selection committee.

Upon selection, students were required to pay tuition of $195, which includes books and supplies.

Participating students meet for three hours every Thursday to develop a business plan and engage with business leaders who serve as their one-on-one mentors. Guest speakers such as attorney Tim Marcel, who gave a presentation on legal business structures, and Bryan Castillo of Riverlands Insurance, who talked to the students about the importance of business insurance, visit the class periodically.

The students have also taken field trips to local businesses. Included in their trips so far in the 2012-13 term have been a tour a of a Subway sandwich shop in LaPlace owned by Chamber board member Raj Pannu, who owns multiple local Subway franchises.

"Subway does a great job at assisting its franchisees by marketing us as a healthy alternative to tradition fast food," Pannu said. "I hope the students learned about operating a food business and the possibilities of franchising. They all were eager to learn more about our processes and had great questions."

In addition, students visited the PJís Coffee roasting facility in New Orleans to hear about the successful franchise that started off as a small idea, much like their own, and grew into something a lot bigger.

"It was very important for them to hear about Phyllis, the founder of PJs, starting on a cart in the French Market because it showed the students that every big business started off small, but with a lot of work and business skill, you can grow into a famous brand," Boe said.

Tobin, a sixth grader who attends St. Charles Borromeo, is the lone participant from St. Charles Parish in the first YEA! class.

Hope learned about the program when Boe gave a presentation at St. Charles Borromeo.

Stephanie Tobin, Hopeís mother, said she was surprised when her daughter came home from school and said she wanted to take part in the program.

"We didnít push her, she decided to pursue this on her own," she said.

The program has been a welcome introduction to the business world for Hope, who will now follow in the footsteps of her father Brian Tobin, who owns Anthonyís Ace Hardware on Ormond Blvd. in Destrehan.

"My husband owns owns a hardware store out here and he was impressed that they were actually going to do all this stuff," Stephanie said. "The knowledge she gains will be invaluable to her regardless of whether or not she carried through with the LLC or later on down the road whatever she chose to do. Whatever she gets out of this will be great. He wished he would have had something like that when he was coming up."

Hope said she has enjoyed the being part of the program.

"Weíve been learning about all types of insurance and weíve been learning how to set up the business plan and create Powerpoints and speech cards and how to run it," she said.

In additon to writing her business plan for Hopeís Bowtique, Hope has already set up shop in the back of her fatherís store where she will create and sell customizable clip-on hair bows. In addition to the location within her fatherís store, she plans to branch out to other retail locations as well as start a website through which she can sell her product.

Hope said part of setting up the business structure included going through a cost-benefit analysis of the business plan.

"We had to include how much we would sell them for and how much all the supplies are and where we are going to work from," she said.

The next step for Hope and the other YEA! class members is giving a presentation to an investorís panel who will decide how a $5,000 investment fund will be split up amongst the class members.

Hope is optimistic that she will receive the funding to jumpstart her business, but overall she said just learning the ins and outs of taking a small business from and idea to fruition has been a great experience.

"It has been really helpful and useful," Hope said.

If you are interested in enrolling your child in next class of the YEA! program, applications are available at or by calling the River Region Chamber at (985)359-9777.

St. Charles Borromeo sixth grader Hope Tobin shows off some of the clip-on hair bows she has made through her small business, Hopeís Bowtique, that was created with the help of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy.
St. Charles Borromeo sixth grader Hope Tobin shows off some of the clip-on hair bows she has made through her small business, Hopeís Bowtique, that was created with the help of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy.