Girls Inc. and First Bank partner to host 6-week Entrepreneurship and Business Program on UMSL’s campus

by | Jun 17, 2024

First Bank has signed on for a three-year financial sponsorship of the program, which includes 14 rising eighth-grade girls in the inaugural class.
Girls Inc, First Bank

Members of the business and entrepreneurship program, a partnership between Girls Inc. and First Bank, pose with Ellen Dierberg Milne (left middle) and Cheryl Jones (right middle). (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

For six weeks this summer, the University of Missouri–St. Louis will host a transformative Entrepreneurship and Business Program that is a partnership between Girls Inc. of St. Louis and First Bank.

This new program, which includes 14 rising eighth-grade girls nominated by their middle school leaders, is designed to empower young women by offering guidance in different aspects of business. The program is modeled after Girls Inc.’s successful Eureka! program, which focuses on promoting STEM careers and is in its ninth year.

The program officially started June 10. On June 12, representatives from First Bank – Ellen Dierberg Milne, vice chairwoman of the board, and Stacy Clay, the director of community affairs – attended the morning session at Anheuser-Busch Hall to meet and chat with the participants. Girls Inc. President and CEO Cheryl Jones made the introductions.

“If it was not for Ellen and First Bank, and if it was not for UMSL, this would not exist,” she told the students. “I hope we all understand how fortunate and blessed we are sitting here today. This is the inaugural class. You’re the first group of girls in the business program. Your superintendents selected you, so please know that this opportunity is one that you should not take lightly. We know how bright you are because you’ve all done wonderful things in school.”

Then, Jones asked which student leader wanted to introduce themselves first.

Madyson Hayes immediately stood up and walked to the front. “Good morning,” she said. “My name is Madison Hayes. I am a proud member of Girls Inc., and I attend Lucas Crossing Middle School. The business that I want to develop is a small jewelry business.”

One by one, each participant stood up, walked to the front and introduced themselves. Some, like Hayes, already had ideas in mind. Others are still working on their ideas, and that fits with the whole concept of the program, which is taking a long-term approach. It’s designed as a five-year program, a cumulative learning experience that extends all the way through high school. Elements include hands-on learning, technology training, internships, field trips to local businesses and college-preparation workshops.

Girls Inc.

Participants in the Girls Inc. business and entrepreneurship program ask questions of Ellen Dierberg Milne of First Bank. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

The way the program came together was a bit serendipitous. Jones had been thinking about ways to add a business/entrepreneurship curriculum to Girls Inc., and First Bank was looking for a way to positively impact the community. So when Clay reached out to Jones to chat about ideas, it felt like a fit right away. Clay and Dierberg Milne met with Jones for a couple hours, and it wasn’t long until First Bank made its financial sponsorship commitment.

“They said, ‘We will do this with you for three years,’” Jones said. “That’s unheard of right now, for a business to say they’re going to do a three-year program, to work, build and execute a plan with a nonprofit.”

With the idea formulated and the long-term sponsorship in hand, Jones next needed a space and educators. She knew just the person to contact. Perry Drake is the chair of UMSL’s Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship, and he has a longstanding relationship with Jones’ organization; Girls Inc., was one of the youth groups Drake invited to his annual Midwest Digital Marketing Conference in May.

Drake immediately brought Carla Jordan, the director of undergraduate advising and student services for UMSL’s College of Business Administration, into the equation, and Corlia (Lia) Spears, the recruitment coordinator at UMSL’s College of Business Administration. With the endorsement of Dean Shu Schiller and assistance from faculty members, including Scott Morris, the director of UMSL’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center, the details of the program were constructed.

The 2024 program runs every day (except holidays) from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., from June 10 through the celebration ceremony on July 19. Sessions are at the Anheuser-Busch Hall, and UMSL faculty members are coordinating the instruction.

“The purpose of the first five weeks is to prep the girls for the last week, which is when they’re going to be working with local entrepreneurs,” Drake said. “They’re going to be given a budget of about $100,000 and they will figure out how to utilize that to promote their businesses. We’re talking about artificial intelligence, software, cloud computing, marketing, developing a marketing plan, working with accounting ledger sheets, all of that. It’s a heavy workload, but it’s exciting.”

On Wednesday, Dierberg Milne spoke with the participants and answered questions for more than 20 minutes. One of the things Jones had asked Dierberg Milne beforehand to talk about: What advice would she give her eighth-grade self, if she had the chance?

“I had a lot of fun thinking about this,” Dierberg Milne said. “I would tell myself to spend some time paying attention to women who are successful in business, the entrepreneurs, or women working for other businesses. What do they do? Because there are so many options out there.

“Always be looking for, how did she get there? Where did she go to school? What did she major in? Who did she work under? What kind of training did she get? There’s going to be pitfalls, and your road might not look exactly like her road, but your destination is going to be the same. You’re going to get discouraged, but that woman also got discouraged. Everyone falls down every now and then. So I would tell myself to find out what were her challenges and how did she get back up?”

Ellen Dierberg Milne, vice chairwoman of the board at First Bank, told participants what advice she would give her eighth-grade self. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

The participants asked plenty of insightful questions, such as:

“What were some of the challenges you faced?”

“Has being a woman in business ever caused problems for you?”

“What does your average day look like?”

“Have you had people along the way who have doubted you?”

Dierberg Milne encouraged the students to look ahead, even though they’re only entering eighth grade this fall, to find the business ideas that will “really light you up inside” and follow that path.

“There’s a little bit of girl power in there that you all are experiencing here, working together,” she said. “I want you all to support each other. Talk about examples of women that you find exciting, because you might inspire each other. My main message is just to own your future. Think about who you want to be. Plan that and never lose sight. It’s your future. You deserve the best. You work hard to get here today, and you should be proud of yourselves.”

Ryan Fagan

Ryan Fagan