Hopkinton High School program helps young entrepreneurs get a glimpse into the business world
Evan Ruderman, a 16-year-old from Contoocook, poses for a portrait while wearing one of the watches in his DBFly line at his home on Saturday, June 21, 2014.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
The watches available from DBFly, the line of watches that Contoocook 16-year-old Evan Ruderman has launched, have versatile straps and are about $25 a piece.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
Hopkinton High School student Evan Ruderman faces some choices this summer – should he sell his line of watches in big-box retail stores such as Urban Outfitters or go local, putting the timepieces on his website and on the shelves of stores in Hopkinton and Concord?
The 16-year-old rising senior runs DBFly, a business that sells mix-and-match fashion watches to college and high school students. Ruderman took over the venture last year from his cousin, and now has plans to revamp and expand with the help of a $500 investment he earned through Hopkinton High School’s new entrepreneurship program.
The program, launched last November, aims to train students how to think and operate like entrepreneurs through a series of workshops put on by local businesspeople.
“There is a budding entrepreneurship group in Hopkinton,” Superintendent Steve Chamberlin said. “People are always interested in trying new things and there’s some risk. We’re just trying to harness that for the kids.”
Commonly known as “E-Series,” the program kicked off with a keynote speech by Stonyfield Farm’s Gary Hirshberg. Each of the following workshops, held once a month, focused on different aspects of creating a business plan and culminated in the “Shark Tank,” where students got a chance to present their business models and win a $500 investment.
More than the money, administrators said, the program gave students the opportunity to fulfill a job-shadow credit requirement, apply the principles they are learning in school and get hands-on experience running their own business ventures.
“Kids are able to combine their talents with something they are passionate about,” Chamberlin said. “They are really owning it.”
Ruderman has had an interest in business his whole life. As a teen, he watched as his older cousin, Doug, launched and developed DBFly. And he saw the business go idle, first for a few months and then for a year, as his cousin focused on a different business that was growing at a faster pace.
Over Thanksgiving last year, Ruderman saw an opportunity. As he and his cousin drove the streets of New York City, Ruderman asked about the watch business and if he could try his hand running it.
“I thought it was a good venture to take up and explore entrepreneurship,” he said.
His cousin agreed. But with no formal training, experience or any classes in business, Ruderman didn’t feel he was totally ready. So he attended the first E-Series presentation in November.
He came out of the session with the confidence to jump in.
“Listening to some of these entrepreneurs speak really inspired me to take on a risk and a challenge,” he said.
Inspiration was the theme of the first E-Series presentation. Each month the theme changed and presenters focused on different aspects of a business plan, such as marketing and finance. What tied the whole series together was its emphasis on having local businesspeople tell their own stories, an approach that helped the program succeed, Chamberlin said.
“People enjoyed coming because it was passionate stories about people who started from nothing,” he said.
The sessions, which took place outside of regular school hours, attracted between 10 to 25 kids. About 10 students presented their business plans for the Shark Tank, which was named for the popular venture-capital television show. For that, each group made a 10-minute presentation to a panel of four judges, who asked questions and evaluated the content. At the end, the top scores were so close that administrators decided to double the number of prizes from two $500 awards to four $500 awards, Chamberlin said.
The winners included two students running a cordwood business who planned to use their $500 to buy a new chain saw and a student who hopes to expand his egg production business. Even those who didn’t win money took away valuable experience, school board Chairman Dave Luneau said.
“Anyone who has waited outside a conference room at a venture capital firm knows what that’s like. The kids really experienced that,” Luneau said.
Ruderman experienced the Shark Tank a little bit differently than the others. The captain of the high school’s lacrosse team, he had a game at the same time as the presentations. So Chamberlin videotaped his presentation the morning of the competition.
“Part of being an entrepreneur is learning to problem solve,” Ruderman said. He found out that he won the $500 via text message, during the bus ride back from the lacrosse game.
Now, Ruderman plans to use the money to purchase a new shipment of watches from the overseas manufacturer that works with him. He will pick the colors and design the watch-face himself, then sell the final products for $25 a piece. By fall, he wants everything lined up so he can make a big sales push.
That means he has work to do this summer. He needs to finalize his website and get it live. He has met with Mark Lane, president of Newfields-based Coed Sportswear, to get help nailing down a business plan. And he is deciding where he wants to sell the watches. He has been in touch with Urban Outfitters, a store that has expressed interest in selling his product, but Ruderman isn’t sure he wants to go the retail route just yet.
“It’s a lot to manage for a startup,” he said.
Hopkinton School District administrators will also keep busy this summer, holding meetings to evaluate the flagship year of the E-Series. The district plans to run the program next year, and one area of focus will be attracting more girls. No female students participated in the Shark Tank this year.
“We are going to gear our marketing a little more to them,” said Danielle Meserve, the School to Career coordinator for the district.
The school also hopes to attract new speakers and include this year’s Shark Tank winners in next year’s presentation lineup.
“Everybody involved in this got so much more value out of it than just the $500 check,” Luneau said. “That was really the big win in all of this.”
(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)