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Students learn financial savvy

February 28, 2007|Cyndia Zwahlen | Special to The Times

Students at the School of Arts and Enterprise in Pomona exemplify the innovative spirit being highlighted this week by EntrepreneurshipWeek USA, a nationwide initiative to inspire young people to think like entrepreneurs.

One of just a handful of state charter high schools that combine arts and business education, the school this semester is setting up a slew of programs to sharpen the financial skills of its arts-oriented students.

Led by business teacher Germaine Nesbitt, students at the 4-year-old school near downtown's Pomona Art Colony make and sell products from their own campus gardens and have begun the process of creating a student-run store. They plan to lead financial literacy workshops in the community, host a fashion show and intern at local businesses.

"All of us have this entrepreneur spirit," Nesbitt said. "We started this school from scratch and we've accomplished quite a bit in such a small amount of time."

Her efforts got a boost last semester when the school won a $200,000, three-year grant from Merrill Lynch & Co., part of the financial services firm's Investing Pays Off curriculum. The program's goal is to build the financial and entrepreneurial skills -- and confidence -- of young people.

Long term, the program and the sponsors of this week's national entrepreneur week, including the Kauffman Foundation, hope to teach young people the tools they need to become the job creators of the future.

"We are really training tomorrow's business leaders," said Brad Dykes, a regional managing director at Merrill Lynch. "Kids in some of the undeserved communities or inner city communities don't particularly grow up having a real good idea that they can one day be a business owner," he said.

The school uses project-based learning to teach the teamwork and cross-disciplinary skills needed to thrive in today's economy. Budding artists learn how to manage their finances and market their art. Students also will learn how to write business plans and read financial statements.

In April, Nesbitt will kick off a business challenge program that matches students with local companies. Student teams, each led by a Cal Poly Pomona senior, will work with 15 local companies and nonprofits to generate ideas and strategies to increase revenue, redesign Web pages or boost publicity.

Student members on the three teams judged to have the best plans would win savings bonds from Merrill Lynch worth as much as $100. The grant also provides $1,000 each for five students, who will serve summer internships at one of the companies to implement the recommendations.

The program is a great fit for at least two of the students.

"I'm not that artsy but I'm interested in learning and this school is very hands-on and I'm a hands-on person," said Arnold Garcia, 17, of Pomona, who wants to be a pilot and open an aviation tour company. "I love business and hopefully in the near future I will open my own business, so this really helps me."

The 12th grader, one of 446 kids enrolled in the alternative high school, hopes to attend UC Riverside and eventually enroll in its aeronautical engineering program.

Senior Joana Sharp, 16, of Claremont, is interested in video game development and would like to be a manager at a video game company. She plans to eventually attend Seattle-based Cornish College of the Arts, known for its 3D animation and graphic design programs.

"I don't know if I'd want to start my own business," Sharp said. "But I'd want to get into a business and maybe manage it."

For more information about the arts and enterprise school, visit For information about EntrepreneurshipWeek USA, visit

Certify your company

It just got easier to apply for the formal small-business certification your company needs to tap into the $9 billion in contracts awarded annually by the state of California.

A small-business owner can now apply online and be approved in as little as one day. Previously, the process relied on a paper application and snail mail and could take as long as six months.

Certification is free and allows your company to take advantage of several programs offered by the state, including preferred bidder status for certain state contracts and inclusion in the state database used by large contractors looking for the small businesses they need to work with to meet state requirements.

The program is run by the General Services Department's Small Business Certification Program and the Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise. Disabled veterans who are business owners can also apply for certification online, but the extra paperwork required to verify their military status can stretch the process out over a month.

For more information, call (916) 375-4940 or visit

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