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home : education : schools June 24, 2016

3/11/2014 1:38:00 PM
Business plans receive cash awards
Keenan O’Hern took top honors in an “investor’s conference, while Spencer Smith (left) and Cooper Gould also showed well. photo by John Griffith
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Keenan O’Hern took top honors in an “investor’s conference, while Spencer Smith (left) and Cooper Gould also showed well. photo by John Griffith

By John Griffith

Sisters High School senior Keenan O'Hern wrapped up the second night of the entrepreneur class "investors' conference" at the FivePine Conference Center with a presentation on a "breathe through" pillow. He smothered the competition to take top honors and earn the "silver briefcase" stuffed with 1,000 $1 bills in the second iteration of this annual event.

O'Hern narrowly defeated last year's winner Cooper Gould who took home the "silver lunchbox" with 500 $1 bills inside. Last year, Gould won this competition with his investor presentation for a computer repair business that he is actually operating. This year he pitched a concept of dismantling old barns and re-assembling them on the buyer's property - a business that he is already operating with his father.

O'Hern described the class as, "More than amazing. Such a great experience to learn from these teachers and really learn about the business world. I think all the students did above the bar."

Gould said, "I think it is great. It is really nice to have a class taught by people that have been there and done it. It makes it so unique and interesting."

The third-place lunchbox, with 250 $1 bills inside, went to Spencer Smith for his presentation on his business, Worn Sole, to produce mini-video presentations for local merchants to put on their websites and post on

"It was absolutely fantastic," Smith said of the class. "This class inspired me to go actually forward with my business. I'm really grateful."

Smith got three requests for proposal from members of the standing-room-only audience after showing one of his locally produced videos.

All 17 students in this volunteer-taught SHS business class, known as "Pursue Your Passion," were rewarded with custom Black Crater sewn vests embroidered with a "Pursue Your Passion - Whatever It May Be" logo.

The cash prizes, the vests and all other class and investor conference expenses for this class were donated by local entrepreneur Bill Willitts.

Second-year volunteer teacher, former bank CEO and owner Gary Wehrle donated the Wall Street Journal textbook, "Complete Small Business Guidebook."

From the beginning of the class, the students knew that a formal multimedia presentation of a business plan covering a business of their choice was part of the course requirement. Later in the trimester, they learned that there would be a cash award for the winning business plan presentation at the mock investors' conference at FivePine.

This second-trimester elective course was the brainchild of Willitts, who pitched it to Superintendent Jim Golden after severe budget cuts forced the elimination of the business program at Sisters High School in 2012.

Willitts, along with local resident and serial entrepreneur Eric Wagner ("seven startups, three acquisitions, and five successful exits"), recruited a team of 12 local folks with business startup experience, a passion for paying it forward, and some time. By the first class, time constraints had reduced the volunteer teaching staff to five.

This year, second-year volunteer teachers Ann Richardson and Julie Benson coordinated field trips to local businesses, and then led a classroom discussion the next day that included the business owners in a Q&A with the students about the details of their business start-up.

Local business owners donated their time and talent to these field trips, including Hop N Bean, Ponderosa Forge, Sisters Coffee Company, Beacham's Clock Co., ENERGYneering Solutions and FivePine Lodge.

The student entrepreneurs included Natalie Ambrose, Vito Bartolotta, Jacob Biber, Billy Biggers, Olivia Chandler, Alex Cyrus, Dalton Early, Cooper Gould, Gus Gyorgyfalvy, Justin Harrer, Lane Huitt, Keenan O'Hern, Jacobie Patterson, Spencer Smith, Cheyenne Sproat, Logan Strasser and Dillon Wright.

The teacher of record for the course was veteran SHS instructor Jon Renner. The volunteer instructors included Bill Willitts, Gary Wehrle, Ann Richardson, Julie Benson, John Griffith, and new to the staff, Ted Johnson.

This year, working off the same model, SHS has added a health science/fire science class that includes volunteer instructors and donated materials. SHS has also added a flight sciences class with volunteer instructors and donated materials and flight time.

Current plans have the "Pursue Your Passion" course being offered again in the second trimester of the 2014-2015 school year.

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