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Southwest Open School launches makerspace for entrepreneurial students

Southwest Open School’s new makerspace. (Casey Simpson/Courtesy photo)
Students are going to be able to utilize the space this summer

Southwest Open School students soon will be taking their entrepreneurial endeavors to various locations in Cortez with the help of the school’s newly purchased makerspace, purchased in conjunction with the school’s new entrepreneurial class.

According to SWOS Director Casey Simpson, the idea for the entrepreneurial class came last year when Justice Ramos approached Simpson with his nonprofit Fundamental Needs, asking whether SWOS would be interested in adding an entrepreneurship class to the school’s electives.

Ramos explained that he had funding from the LOR Foundation and would be able to hire a teacher to teach the class, as well as a mentor to support the teacher.

“Two teachers sounded like a great deal,” Simpson said. “The kids really liked it.”

In the entrepreneurship class, students utilized the teacher’s guidance in formulating a business idea, creating a business plan and learning how to put their plan in motion, something Simpson said is invaluable for students who wish to start their own business, as they are learning skills that will serve them in their goals before they graduate.

At a recent pitch competition at the Elks Lodge in Cortez, three SWOS groups presented their business ideas to a panel, and all students who participated received some sort of funding for their businesses.

One of the businesses was created by two SWOS students, one who acts as the artist and the other who takes more of the business side of things.

“Essentially, they make clothing for extra large people, because they said that type of clothing wasn’t readily available at Walmart and other local retailers,” Simpson said.

The second group of students created their own skin lotion company, and the last business idea was started by a SWOS student named Garrett Samora who wanted to start a maker’s space.

“I didn’t really know what a maker’s space was before that, but it’s a space where people can work on their ideas and start their own businesses in entrepreneurial fashion,” Simpson said.

Soon after, Simpson said he was sent a Facebook ad from the entrepreneurship teacher advertising a dual axle trailer with an office space built into it.

“We gathered together the funding and bought it so that the students and the continuation of the entrepreneurship class next year can make their ideas come true and potentially sell their items at some locations in town. We can drive the trailer to a parking lot,” Simpson said.

While there is no signage advertising what the makerspace is, the students can still work on their business projects and even sell their items from that space.

The maker’s space will also be used for students in SWOS’s bike program who will be doing a hands-on learning class in the upcoming school year that will entail turning old bike frames and bike parts into jewelry boxes, wind chimes and jewelry.

Another SWOS teacher has a booth at the farmer’s market each summer where she sells fudge, “felted creations” and jewelry, and she will be able to utilize the maker’s space.

“She’s going to be doing hands-on art this year to have our artists create and sell stuff,” Simpson said. “I’m just really excited. Schools like SWOS, alternative education campuses, have a tough time generating the funding required to build a huge welding shop or carpentry shop or things of that nature, so this maker space idea actually really aligns really well with our alternative philosophy.”

“These students can go out and start making legitimate career money right off the bat with whatever great ideas they come up with, and I think it’ll improve their agency and help them pursue their hopes and dreams,” Simpson continued. “And if nothing else, see what works and see what doesn’t work. This is an opportunity for those students to continue to grow and figure that stuff out before they launch it as an adult.”

Simpson added that having a class of this nature in a rural community will help students lay the groundwork to succeed in their business goals, while helping provide a blueprint for how to make their dream a reality.

“A small, rural community like Montezuma County where a lot of small businesses start and we’ve all seen businesses start to fail in a pretty quick succession, this entrepreneurial class can do a lot for the community because students will be prepared,” Simpson said. “They always say have a three year plan on not paying yourself for at least two years, but they’ll have the groundwork to start businesses. We don’t have malls to provide all the things that people want, so that makes entrepreneurship that much more important in our area.”