Teaching entrepreneurship, one lemon squeeze at a time

Don’t mistake Thirsty’s Lemonade Stand for your average children’s neighborhood lemonade stand. It’s not.

Thirsty’s is a full-fledged entrepreneurial endeavor, complete with its own secret recipe, investors and business plan. But it’s only one of many that can be found across Baton Rouge this weekend as Lemonade Day Louisiana celebrates its fourth year on Saturday.

Thirsty’s was one of nine lemonade stands set up for the kick-off for the event in Baton Rouge on Friday at the Live After Five concert series. The stands at the event were all planned and organized by youths from the Big Buddy and Junior Achievement of Baton Rouge programs.

Lemonade Day, a national program to teach kids the principles of entrepreneurship, was brought to Louisiana in 2010 by John Georges, CEO of Georges Enterprises and publisher and CEO of The Advocate, and Todd Graves, founder and CEO of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers.

Both Georges and Graves got their start in business working their own lemonade stands.

Nine different stands, including Thirsty’s, were featured on Friday evening, serving a variety of flavors — from classic to watermelon lemonade.

Lemonade Day supplies students with a workbook teaching basic entrepreneurship skills and strategies. For the first time, the LSU Stephenson Entrepreneurship Institute at the university’s business school supplied mentors to students.

The SEI mentors worked with youngsters involved in the Big Buddy program at local schools for several weeks prior to Friday’s kick-off, helping them work through the Lemonade Day workbook and critiquing their business models.

“Lemonade Day is really about giving the kids an entrepreneurship mentor to teach them how to be an entrepreneur, so the partnership with LSU has really been amazing in that aspect,” said Lauren Smith, program operations director at Big Buddy.

SEI and Big Buddy had partnered for the event before, with SEI providing supply bags with goods necessary for the Lemonade Day stands to operate. But LSU professor Thomas Greckhamer, academic adviser for SEI, said the institute was looking for a way to be more involved.

“It’s really a cycle where we’re trying to teach the next generation of entrepreneurs who then go out and teach the next generation,” Greckhamer said. “It’s really a great program, and we’re excited to be a part of it.

Lauren Rodgers, a business freshman at LSU and a member of SEI, served as Thirsty’s mentor for the last five weeks. Rodgers made weekly trips to LA Key Academy, the school the kids on the Thirsty’s team attend, to help them build a successful business model.

Rodgers and the Thirsty’s team decided their model would center on a rented daiquiri machine after Rodgers suggested the team needed a way to keep the lemonade cold and fresh.

Each stand made similar business decisions, such as distribution methods and pricing.

“They really do get a sense of putting a business together,” Rodgers said. “They do everything. They build the stand, they make the signs and they’re actually out here working to sell it.”

While the nine Big Buddy and Junior Achievement stands were all located around the Live After Five festivities on Friday, entrants in today’s official Lemonade Day competition get to pick their locations, meaning stands can be found throughout Baton Rouge.

All Lemonade Day stands split their earnings three ways, keeping one-third, investing one-third in a designated savings account and donating the rest to a charity of their choice.

“This program is building an entrepreneurial ecosystem that benefits our community on many levels,” Greckhamer said.