February 14, 2007

Student's Businesses Help Others Shoot for Success

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Seth Flowerman ’08 is an applied economics and management major, but, as the founder and president of two companies, Career Explorations and Vertex Academic Services, it is a wonder he doesn’t teach the courses himself. Flowerman’s entrepreneurial endeavors grew out of his experience as a 16-year-old intern at the London offices of Cantor Fitzgerald, a financial services firm.

“Before my internship, I was a mediocre high school student,” Flowerman said. “But in London I had an incredible mentor, Ken Rideout, who immediately took me under his wing and treated me like an adult. The first thing he said to me was ‘trading begins at 7 a.m., you begin at 7 a.m.’”

Flowerman wrote his first business plan — a 30 to 40 page document that outlines the ways in which a business makes money — with the help of Rideout’s business plan for the energy trading desk at Cantor Fitzgerald. Flowerman wanted to share his summer in London with other high school students, so he developed Career Explorations, an internship program that sets American high school students up with internships in Boston and New York City. Flowerman said that establishing credibility was the biggest challenge he faced in the beginning stages of the business.

“How do you get parents to trust someone younger to take care of their children for a month?” Flowerman asked, in describing the rocky road of new businesses.

The $6,000 cost for the program also jilted some parents. However, Flowerman had 15 participants the first year and broke even in the books, especially impressive because, according to Flowerman, many businesses stay in the red for the first few years. Flowerman’s first employee for C.E. was his 28-year-old brother Josh, who had experience working in sports and with children as a camp counselor. Flowerman’s mother also helped the company gain trustworthiness by conducting administrative tasks and talking on the phone to parents. Flowerman said that working with family can be very difficult, but the fact that C.E. is family-run helps the participating student interns feel like a part of a tight-knit community.

“I usually run the orientation, and the first thing I say is ‘Welcome to the C.E. Family,’” Flowerman said.

C.E. now has over 110 participants and also offers a SAT prep program. Todd Aronson, the director of C.E.’s Boston program, attributes CE’s success to the fact that it’s a “great concept.” “Internship programs like CE are needed more are more these days because college admissions have become very rigorous and students are looking for ways to get an advantage over other students,” Aronson said.

Aronson said that the cost of CE is comparable to that of other summer internship programs, and that they’re working on setting up scholarships for the future. Aronson said that Summer Search, a national program that helps low-income students with career development, has fully supported some students in CE. Rideout’s role in Flowerman’s business life has transformed from mentor to business partner. In January 2006, Flowerman wrote the business plan for Vertex Academic Services; the company was incorporated in April and Rideout is Flowerman’s partner for Vertex.

“You never know how who you meet today will affect you in the future,” Flowerman said.

Vertex aims to become one of the leading providers of standardized test prep in Manhattan, Flowerman said. 12 tutors compose the company, in addition to Flowerman and two full-time employees. ”I collaborate with Seth on executing the business plan,” said Jeff Sharp, director of Vertex. “I’ve developed different aspects of the service component for the business, such as assessment protocols for students entering Vertex.” To identify exactly what kind of tutoring the students need, Vertex administers a diagnostic assessment test. ”We’ve worked with many private-school students in Manhattan,” Sharp said. “But, at the same time, we want to make our services available to students of all financial means. We offer some scholarships and discounted rates as well as work with the Boys of New York.”

“As a for-profit education program, we are attentive of charity and make it a priority to not continue to drive a rift between the haves and have-nots in the education world, and want to make supplemental education available to all students,” Sharp said. At Cornell, Flowerman worked as a TA for AEM 325: Personal Enterprise and Small Business Management, in which students write business plans and then present them to investors or venture capitalists. Flowerman said that, on average, he works 25-30 hours a week running his businesses, but can work as many as 100.

For more information on Entrepreneurship at Cornell, please visit www.eship.cornell.edu