Six middle school students gather as part of Business Innovation Academy.

Business Innovation Academy introduces middle schoolers to business

Friday, April 12, 2024

By Justin Erickson, '24 BSB

The students project their slideshow in a Carlson School classroom, and begin their presentation in front of a class of their peers. However, these are not Carlson School students. They are 7th and 8th graders, who are learning what it is like to be a business student through the Business Innovation Academy.

The Business Innovation Academy is a week-long camp that centers the experience of students whose identities are underrepresented in business from across the Twin Cities metro. Hundreds of students from across a dozen school districts participate over the course of three summer sessions. During the week, students engage in interactive activities that teach them the basics of business as well as what life is like at the University of Minnesota.

The Business Innovation Academy is run by the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) team at the Carlson School. The program is entirely free for students, with transportation and meals included, removing barriers for families to sign their students up.

“We value access and equity a lot with this program,” said Jeff Williams, Coordinator for Diversity Pathway Initiatives and Community Partnerships at the Carlson School. “The goal of the program is to provide underrepresented students with the chance to learn about skills that will help them in business or another field. We also look to make them more comfortable on a college campus so they can picture themselves here in the future.”

The DEI team partners with licensed teachers from Inver Grove Heights to lead activities throughout the day.

“Students get to learn a lot of soft skills through this program,” said Williams. “Even if they don’t study business in the future, students can take away skills from this program that will help them be successful.”

During the program, students participate in a variety of activities, including a campus tour, site visit, and mock classes on subjects such as marketing, finance, and accounting. However, much of the week is dedicated to preparing students for a case competition they will present at the end of the week. Students participate in several workshops, covering topics such as leadership and presentation skills.

“Students will learn how a project comes together and how to develop teamwork skills,” said Williams. “We hope they are able to appreciate the different skills that go into a business and how all the parts come together to form an idea.”

The DEI team works with the Impact Lab to design the case. The Impact Lab consists of two required courses for Carlson School students where they solve real-world business problems. Current Carlson School students create the case that students will work on during the Business Innovation Academy. This case outlines a problem related to an area of business, such as marketing, and asks middle school students to use concepts that they learned to provide solutions for that problem. For example, last year students were asked to rebrand Cheetos following a scandal.

“Current students will learn to work with ambiguity when designing this case,” said Williams. “This isn’t something they are used to doing, so this is a way to test their brain and help them learn important skills.”

Students can get involved with the Business Innovation Academy through teacher recommendation.

Applications are open until June 3, 2024, for the Emerging Leaders of Color and Analytics U pathway programs, which are for high school students.