When life gives you lemons, build entrepreneurship

When life gives you lemons, build entrepreneurship

 

Some of the young entrepreneurs most vital to southeast Michigan’s long-term prosperity aren’t working in the automotive industry or Web development or advanced manufacturing technology. They’re working in lemonade.

Some of the young entrepreneurs most vital to southeast Michigan’s long-term prosperity aren’t working in the automotive industry or Web development or advanced manufacturing technology.

They’re working in lemonade.

Since 2011, when Huntington Bank brought an experiential learning program called Lemonade Day to Michigan, more than 70,000 elementary school students have participated.1 The program lets the kids see what it’s like to start and run a lemonade stand as if it were a real business with real business needs, like startup funding, product development, pricing strategies, marketing support and, importantly, a plan for directing some of the business’s profits to a community charity.

Program participation is free.

Since the first Lemonade Day was held in Houston in 2007, the group behind it has licensed the idea to sponsors in more than 50 cities in the United States, Canada and South Africa.2 The group was looking for someone to organize and operate Lemonade Day in Michigan and reached out to Mike Fezzey, then-general manager of radio station WJR-AM in Detroit, shortly before he joined Huntington Bank as regional president, southeast Michigan, in 2011.

When Fezzey got to Huntington, he told his new marketing team he thought Lemonade Day would be a “perfect match” with the bank’s mission to help secure the regional economy’s long-term health.3 Fezzey’s team agreed.

“We had just been through the worst of the economic downturn, and the outlook was still kind of gloomy here in terms of ‘are we gonna make it?’” said Lisa Brinker, assistant vice president, senior marketing specialist and leader of Huntington’s Lemonade Day team since the beginning. “There was a sense of optimism, but … it was kind of a restrained optimism.”

“We were thinking, if we’re gonna rebuild this economy it takes more than just giving a hand to existing businesses,” Brinker said. “We wanted to make sure that we had the next generation of business leaders primed and ready to come in. And so starting to give the kids these lessons … you control your destiny, there’s no reason why you can’t think about being a business owner in your future. The only limitation is you, and here’s the information that you need to go forward and think differently about your future.”4

In 2013 and 2014, Detroit public schools partnered with Huntington and made Lemonade Day a cross-curricular project in all of the district’s K-through-8 schools.

“They did it as a cross-curricular because Lemonade Day uses all of the different subjects (the students) study,” Brinker said, “everything from social studies and economics and math and art and science. They went through every lesson. And then on one day before the end of the school year, the students all set up their businesses. The entire community got involved.”5

In the five years since Lemonade Day arrived in Michigan, students have generated nearly $2.5 million in revenue and donated more than $500,000 to a variety of charitable causes, including pet rescues, breast cancer, homeless shelters, veterans’ groups and food banks.

“Huntington has invested in rebuilding Michigan’s economy through several different avenues,” Brinker said. “This was another piece of it. This was inspiring entrepreneurship. And even if the kids didn’t grow up to be a business owner, they would have valuable lessons through the program that we think would help them throughout the rest of their lives.”6

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Mike Fezzey with a student at his lemonade stand.

 

Copy of Huntington Lemonade Day

Mike Fezzey with students at Lemonade Day.