Bankers invest in elementary schoolers’ startups

August 10, 2018 | GET MORE : Social Responsibility

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U.S. Bank intern Ryan Poehler reflects on a summer of innovation and community involvement.

You’re not just here to learn, they told us.

From the beginning of our internships this summer at U.S. Bank, the company’s senior leadership made it clear that we were also at the company to provide a fresh perspective. 

When a group of 200 interns had the opportunity to teach entrepreneurial skills to elementary schoolers, we told them the same thing. 

Using the U.S. Bank #MyFirstStartup workbooks, we helped kids innovate their own future companies. Students came up with everything from an app for kids to complement their friends’ artwork (“Kidstagram”) to a pet sitting service (“The Dog Whisperer”) to a café where people could enjoy a cup of coffee and play with kittens (“Kitty Café”). With guidance from interns and the workbook, the group of 10-year-olds thought through the keys to a business, such as employees, salary expenses, shift scheduling, benefits and marketing. Kitty Kafé’s theoretical owners, for example, recognized its differentiation from what is out there today and considered charging premium prices as a result. 

In addition to making a profit, many of their startup ideas were aimed at making a difference. One group outlined their plan for creating superhero clothes for girls (“Wonder Woman Clothing Company”). They set out to: help all girls feel comfortable wearing their clothes no matter what they looked like; save the environment by only using recycled materials in production; and give back by donating part of the proceeds to a local homeless shelter. 

Each group inspired us during this collaborative experience by combining concrete business practices and passionate ideas. It was a fresh perspective that we took back to our internship roles at U.S. Bank. 

Part of the U.S. Bank internship program is a series of projects in which groups of interns develop and pitch, to leaders across the bank, ideas on how to improve the way the company serves customers.

My group’s idea was an app feature that would make world travel more accessible. It’d help customers navigate and anticipate costs such as hotels, meals, transportation and foreign exchange. We came up with the concept by drawing on our own travels. We all felt that gaining a different cultural experience was extremely beneficial, but had each found that budgeting and maintaining financial confidence in a new place was more difficult than we expected.   

Those personal experiences are how innovation is born. Other intern group proposals included a savings tool for compulsive spenders, a nonjudgmental voice assistant banker and more. 

Just as we left our day with the elementary students, we leave our internships feeling empowered and excited by a bright future. Innovators and entrepreneurs can learn from startups like Wonder Woman Clothing Company and The Dog Whisperer. Identify a problem or opportunity in your community or your life, and work backwards to solve it. 

The students, truly, were not just there to learn. 

Ryan Poehler is a marketing intern at U.S. Bank and a rising senior at the University of Minnesota. The #MyFirstStartup initiative is part of Community Possible, the bank’s social responsibility platform focused on closing gaps between people and possibility in the areas of Work, Home and Play. Photos by Justin Yunke.