Investing in innovation, financial planning with today’s youth

It’s never too early to start thinking about the future. 

That’s the impetus behind a pair of camps this summer at Western Michigan University that have nothing to do with sports, music or arts and crafts, and absolutely everything to do with financial planning, investing and developing innovative ideas and coming up with a corresponding business plan.

The four-day camps, geared toward middle and high school students, as well as those who have just graduated high school, will focus on giving young minds some of the financial and creative tools necessary to be successful in their personal lives as well as in business ventures.

Offered by the university’s Haworth College of Business, the second-year finance and entrepreneurship and innovation camps offer a hands-on opportunity that, among other activities, will send kids on some pretty memorable field trips. 

For finance campers that means going to Chicago to get an inside look at how the stock exchange works and meet with investment bankers. For innovation campers, it means visiting area businesses to talk with successful entrepreneurs about their ideas and how they came to fruition. 

Finance Camp

In addition to learning about the stock market and making investments, attendees of the finance camp — held in WMU’s new trading room — will study a variety of financial topics that impact the world in general as well as people on an individual level. 

“We saw the need for financial literacy as really high,” said Dr. Jim DeMello, Chairman of the Department of Finance and Commercial Law at WMU. “So that’s part of why we are offering the camp. 

“It’s the little things you want to drive home, such as the importance of budgeting wisely and not spending beyond your means. We’ll be focusing on that as well as investing and saving, insurance, risk management, planning for college and careers, and on taxes.” 

Of course, the highlight of the camp will be the trip to Chicago. Last year, DeMello said, campers paid visits to the Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the Chicago Board of Trade Building and the office of a hedge fund manager and WMU graduate who was happy to answer questions and talk with the students about his experience in the finance realm. Similar stops are planned for this year.

At the end of the four days, attendees will conclude two projects. One guides students to pick 10 stocks and study data and research, risk and return and chart the progress of those stocks in real time throughout the week. The other project will have students design a lifecycle financial plan, helping them to develop personal finance and life goals as well as plan for retirement.

“When we did presentations last year not a single student said they wanted to buy a new car, they all wanted to buy a used car for their first car,” DeMello said. “That was great. We really encourage them to get engaged at home and ask their parents about how they paid for college, and how they budget and what things cost. Having those discussions can go a long way.”

There will be two sessions for the finance camp this summer: June 26-30 for students who have completed grades 7-9, and July 17-21 for students who have completed grades 10-12.  Both camps are capped at 30 attendees and registration for each of them closes June 1, but is expected to fill up sooner.

Innovation Camp

Appropriately named “Beyond the Lemonade Stand,” the entrepreneurship and innovation camp will provide students who have completed grades 9-12 an opportunity to learn about developing and pitching business plans, obtaining startup financing, and everything else that goes along with product promotion.

Days will be spent in brainstorming sessions, working in engineering labs and talking with student entrepreneurs at the university as well as local business leaders who have launched successful ventures.

The camp is expanding from a two-day to four-day experience in year two, as well as making the move to the university’s engineering college. The location change will afford campers access to labs where they will be able to work more on product development than the inaugural group could. 

“We really look forward to the innovative ideas that they come up with,” said Lara Hobson, Director of Operations for Starting Gate, a business accelerator program at WMU. “We put them in teams of four and five and allow them to develop the idea, teach them how to market it and get it out there.”

The camp came about, Hobson said, as faculty members continued to watch interest grow in Western’s entrepreneurship program. 

“A lot of students want to be their own bosses someday and not work for a corporation,” Hobson said. “There are a lot of great resources out there for them to make an idea happen and it can be anybody that can have that idea. We help them discover what those resources are, both online and out in the community.”

Attendees might find themselves working on anything from designing and developing apps to putting together processes to produce physical products. Not something you typically see at your average summer camp. 

“The camp itself is just unique,” Hobson said. “It’s something different for students and gives them a chance to think outside the box and to meet some different people and expand their horizons. It’s fun for us too. It lets us learn from them, and get to see what kids are thinking about in their generation.”

The innovation camp, also capped at 30 attendees, is slated for June 19-22. The deadline to register for the session is June 5. 

Ryan Boldrey is a freelance journalist and editor living in Kalamazoo. A Michigan native, he returned to his home state in 2016 after spending a decade working as a writer and editor in Colorado. He spends much of his time traveling to see live music and is an avid outdoor enthusiast and Detroit Tigers fan.
Signup for Email Alerts