UNO alums help mentor local children with Shark Tank program


Grant Rohan

Several kids are posing at an event for the "Shark Tank" program
Partnership 4 Kids eighth grade students present their product in the Shark Tank program. Photo courtesy of Partnership 4 Kids.

Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran might not be investors in this version of Shark Tank, but the Partnership 4 Kids Shark Tank program will be aided by local business owners in this current educational program.

In September, P4K began its Shark Tank Middle School Edition, an educational experience to teach eighth graders in their program about financial vitality, an ethical value promoted through Omaha’s Youth Ethics Alliance.

Running from Sept. 20 to Dec. 5, the program allows students to develop an idea for a popcorn-based small business, create a business plan for their idea and compete to be selected as top business model at their middle school. Four “sharks” attend each school and evaluate the business plan, ask questions, provide feedback and choose the winning plan.

Shukura Huggins, P4K program coordinator and UNO graduate, described how the concept of financial vitality and the eighth grade curriculum of entrepreneurship opens new lanes for students.

“I think it gives them some different options; there may be a student who is looking at different industries and they may want to see what it’s like to work for yourself and use creativity to launch,” Huggins said. “A lot of them also know other people in their families or in the community that are entrepreneurs, so we wanted to give them some insight on what it takes to run a business.”

Huggins, who has been with P4K for six years, has been the glue connecting students and mentors who volunteer with the program at Lewis & Clark Middle School.

“The idea of mentoring fits in any part of life for anybody, so I found a good fit as far as working with students and still being able to connect with the community as well,” Huggins said.

Students in the Shark Tank program work closely with business coaches from First National Bank (FNB) who guide them and help design business plans for the competition. These mentors work with groups of four to five students to offer encouragement and support to create a successful business, from the branding and logo to the final budget of the business plan.

Business coach Dawson Porter has been involved with P4K’s Shark Tank program for several weeks after hearing about the opportunity to mentor students while at FNB. Porter, a UNO alumni, said his favorite part is being with the students through the entire creative process.

“Giving them the ability to run with things and take charge on their own,” Porter said. “That’s really cool to see.”

The winning groups will put their business plan into action the week of Dec. 1 as the schools bring their popcorn companies to locations around Omaha. All proceeds from popcorn sales will go toward funding each group’s service-learning project during spring semester.

“Seeing them get excited about what they’ve done and having them see results and be happy with what they did is the biggest thing,” Porter said.