Portland teens make value-added shirts, skateboards in new entrepreneurship class

The seeds of entrepreneurship can be planted early, and in Casco Bay High School’s new entrepreneurship class, a group of Portland teenagers planted the seeds, watered them, gave them plenty of sunlight and developed marketing plans for them.

Recognizing the pride in inside jokes, one student, senior Margo Arruda, splashed spew across the front of a T-shirt. Wait, sorry — forgot the caps lock there, I meant SPEW.

That’s the official acronym for the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare, of course, and if you knew that, you’re a proud member of the niche audience Arruda hopes to plug into in her proposed T-shirt line. SPEW is something out of J.K. Rowling’s bestselling Harry Potter books and their fantastical wizarding world.

Other shirts in Arruda’s line reference businesses you might come across in J.R.R. Tolkien’s universe. Here’s a comment from the senior:

From the time I was 10, I could navigate Middle Earth better than my hometown. [My new T-shirts reference] inside jokes that only really big fans would get. There are hundreds of Harry Potter (Facebook) fan pages and people are on them literally obsessive.

Arruda’s project was one of two honored as part of the course competition, placing the students in the position of defending their projects in terms of marketability, financing and other real-world considerations for start-ups. A panel of judges, including two entrepreneurs, a corporate lawyer and Casco Bay High School Principal Derek Pierce, named Arruda’s project “best overall entrepreneurial understanding and skills.”

Classmates Ben Alcorn and Oliver Holden came away with “best presentation and most promising business idea” honors for their Bogus Boards, a skateboard design company pitched with a full-blown promotional video.

Alcorn and Holden told the judges they plan to design boards to appeal to males between the ages of 13 and 25.

Said Alcorn:

The most important objective in a business is to define the target market, and alter your product to appeal to them.

According to a piece distributed by the Portland Public Schools, Arruda plans to call her start-up “Goof Ball Designs,” and to market them under the slogan: “Unleash your inner dork.”

With a corporate lawyer on the panel, you’d think maybe Arruda would have faced some tough questions on a project utilizing a famous author’s presumably protected characters, but the Portland student did look into that.

From the district piece:

Margo’s biggest concern was whether she could be violating intellectual property rights. She researched the topic extensively and spoke to intellectual property lawyers. She learned that J.K. Rowling, the author of the “Harry Potter” series, has only filed a handful of lawsuits, all against people who published books related to her series.

And here’s some background on the class and teacher Pat Pinto:

Pat Pinto designed and taught the entrepreneurship class. She has worked as a corporate executive, nonprofit executive manager and business owner in several industries, building successful start-ups, orchestrating numerous business partnerships and launching a variety of products and services. She also has taught marketing at the college level.

Pinto used a curriculum developed by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and customized it for the CBHS class. Students learned to think like entrepreneurs, to create and evaluate business ideas and to master skills such as doing market research and developing marketing plans and business strategies.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.