MANSFIELD — Grayson Foster isn’t afraid to hustle. Since 2019, the Mansfield teen has sold limited-edition tennis shoes through an Instagram page called 419.kickz.
“What inspired me to start my own business was not having a limit to what I can make,” Foster said.
“Although it takes more time to get a business up and running versus having a job, I’ve always liked being able to be my own boss and not having to limit my potential for growth.”
After starting 419 Kickz, Foster registered for the strategic entrepreneurship program at Mansfield Senior High School. Since then, he's launched a second business — a mobile car detailing service called 419 Details.
"I have all my stuff in my car and I just go and connect to people's water and electric and just do it, wherever they're at," he said.
Mansfield City's entrepreneurship career tech program launched two years ago under Todd Hoovler, a former social studies and career based intervention teacher at Mansfield Senior High School.
“Mr. Hoovler sticks out to me because he really just cares about the kids," Foster said. “He'll get on us if we're slacking or not getting done when we're supposed to get done.”
During the first year of the program, students earn industry recognized credentials in customer service and sales and retail industry fundamentals. They also earn their "OSHA 10 card" after completing a 10-hour training session from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.
After earning their certifications, they learn how to create a resume, a marketing plan and a business plan.
“Being in Hoovler’s class has helped me with my businesses," said Foster, a junior. "I recently made 419 Details yard signs and built an LLC.”
Sebastian Page tried to enroll in a college business class for his junior year. It didn't work out, so he decided to take the entrepreneurship class and start his own business.
He's currently taking senior photos and hopes to expand to family portraits.
Jacob Zimmer said he signed up for the program because he wants to be his own boss one day.
“I've always known that I want to build my own business," he said. "I don't want to work for somebody.”
When the Sandy Hill Fruit Farm went up for sale, Hoovler assigned each of his students to come up with a business plan for how they could use the space. Sometimes they look at real estate listings on Zillow and talk about why they may or may not make a good investment property.
While there are specific skills that must be taught, Hoovler said part of having an entrepreneurship program is making space for students' passion and creativity.
"Based on what a student is interested in, I can kind of tailor the program within the field of entrepreneurship," Hoovler said.
"It's very student-driven. I can still hit my (curriculum) standards, but they can really get and take away what they want out of it. That's always rewarding for me, to see them take interest and ownership.”
Many of Hoovler's students are using an online program that simulates the stock market to learn the ins and outs of investing.
Jah'Mere Dotson-Thomas is taking a different approach. He's working on an online pre-qualification course for getting his real estate license. He's also in the process of launching Dirty Bird Originals, a t-shirt business featuring his designs.
"He's always doing something extremely creative that no that nobody else really thinks of," Hoover said. "When he shows his design to other people, it's always really well-received."
Students aren't required to start their own business as part of the program, but they all get a chance to practice their product development and customer service skills.
The class uses the program's onsite lab to design and print custom posters, vinyl banners and stickers, photo quality canvas and t-shirts.
So far, the class has made t-shirts for the Richland County Youth Substance Use Coalition, hole sponsor signs for a local golf course, homecoming and prom tickets for the high school and the new vision and mission statement banners that hang in the district board office.
“Any time you go out into the community and you say ‘Todd Hoovler,’ people know who you’re talking about,” said Nikia Fletcher, director of college and career readiness for Mansfield City Schools.
“He is one of the most engaged CTE teachers that I have in the community.”
While many of Hoovler's students are on a traditional path to graduate, some enroll as a chance to get back on track.
“A student can graduate on an alternative pathway if they get 12 credential points," Fletcher said.
“Last year, we had over 50 seniors who needed a 12-point credential to graduate. We put them through the Rise Up program and they were very successful."
Chief academic officer Stephen Rizzo said Hoovler has a passion for helping at-risk students get back on track and graduate on time, all while teaching them employability and independent living skills.
Hoovler has also helped his students get work-based learning hours through Richland County Jobs and Family Services and partnered with other teachers to teach entrepreneurship skills to students in other CTE programs.
Hoovler said it's all about nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs.
“I always describe Mansfield as a hustle-and-grind town. I feel like Mansfield has a natural entrepreneurial spirit," he said.
“A lot of our kids are suffering from trauma. I just want to be a resource for them and provide them with an opportunity to see, the situation you're in doesn't have to be the situation where you end up."