Charter School class aims to train entrepreneurs

The Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School’s Introduction to Entrepreneurship class hosted Vineyard Grocer owner Elio Silva on March 15. Mr. Silva explained his work as a businessman to the class, in an upbeat talk that lasted almost an hour.

Mr. Silva said that he is involved in seven businesses and has plans for more. He encouraged students to develop a moral compass that guides their actions, to stay physically fit, to read at least a book a week, to set goals, and to turn off the TV.

“If you want your business to succeed you must be prepared to work longer hours than your employees, and you must be willing to adapt to the marketplace,” said Mr. Silva, the first of six guest speakers the class plans to invite between now and the end of the school year.

The Introduction to Entrepreneurship class is one of five Charter School spring elective courses. The class, which meets 15 times, was developed and is taught by former Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce director Gary Cogley.

Marie Larsen, Charter School activities director, said, “The class is similar to the artist in residence program we have. Mr. Cogley came to the school with his idea for the class in the fall. There were a group of kids who were interested in it, so we put them together.”

The class includes eight students; one of the assignments has been to develop a business plan. Two students have worked on plans for businesses they already have up and running. One is a commercial photographer with plans to go into fashion photography. Another other designs, produces, and sells her own jewelry. Another plans to transform his family’s farm. One student is a senior, the rest younger.

Mr. Cogley has spent nearly 30 years of his professional life as a teacher, entrepreneur, and chamber of commerce executive. He was a retail owner with multiple stores, he has taught, coached, and had management assignments at the secondary and under-graduate/graduate levels. He performs music programs for Island nursing homes. He retired as chief executive of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. Ms. Larsen said the Charter School is always looking for mentors from the community and that Mr. Cogley has been an enthusiastic volunteer for the Charter School’s mentor program.

“The topic of entrepreneurship is of very high interest to young people who are in the early stages of considering their own career options,” Mr. Cogley said. “As many Island students come from entrepreneurial families, they have an ingrained interest in owning their own future. Some already work in their parents’ or grandparents’ businesses, some want to start their own venture.”

The entrepreneurship class is designed to assist students in developing a business idea, perhaps one that they’ve been thinking about, or something totally new, according to Mr. Cogley.

“If a student is considering being in business for themselves or perhaps, at some point, operating their family’s business, this class is an opportunity for critical thought about their choices,” he said. “Planning is a learned skill. It applies to most life choices, and it is particularly true in the world of small business.” So the class focuses on planning skills, from idea and concept development to the actual preparation of a comprehensive business plan, including marketing, finance, and start-up strategies.