Boise entrepreneur Tobe Brockner regrets never talking business with his grandfather, who built a multimillion-dollar financial-services business from scratch in rural Louisiana before dying at age 55, when Brockner was a teenager.
"He was an introverted, private man, and when he passed away, all that business knowledge went with him," says Brockner, now 37. "The older I got, the more I realized what a travesty that was."
Brockner, who founded Meridian telemarketing company Intelesure and Eagle marketing firm V-Squared Creative, developed a summer program to give Treasure Valley children and teenagers a chance to learn about area businesses with Passport to Boise.
It's a booklet of 49 businesses, each offering classes for children ages 7 to 17, 7 to 12 or 12 to 17. The classes, which are staggered on a Monday-to-Saturday schedule from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., are designed to teach through fun activities. Businesses holding upcoming classes include a demo and taste test at BuckSnort Root Beer, hip-hop dancing at The Lotus Tree, and a braids, make-up, skin care, nail-art and styling class at Toni&Guy Hairdressing Academy.
The first passport purchased cost $99, and subsequent passports cost $49. The program is a for-profit venture run by V-Squared Creative, which contributes marketing. Participating businesses must buy a passport, which they can either use or donate to local Boys and Girls Club or Big Brothers Big Sisters chapters. The program has one employee, co-founder and Project Director Eric Brocksome.
Q: How many passports have you sold since opening the program May 31?
A: More than 500 have registered. The intent is to get these kids out and exposed to different businesses, to see the equipment, how it actually operates, to peel back the curtain a little bit.
Q: What do participating businesses get out of this?
A: There's a marketing component to it. Take MoMo Food of the Himalayas in Meridian. They will teach a cooking class on how to cook Momo dumplings. The parents will probably buy some food. Maybe they never would have been there if not for the passport program, so it's driving business.
Q: How do you pitch the program to businesses?
A: Entrepreneurs are some of loneliest people on the planet. They are surrounded by people who don't understand what they do. When I tell people about my grandfather, they say, '"Yeah, I see that in myself. I want to pass it on to the community." So it's easy to get them on board.
Q: What guidance do you give businesses about how they should structure their classes?
A: It needs to be educational, but it also needs to be really fun and engaging. I have a boy who is 10 and a little girl who is 8. The best way they learn is if we disguise the learning as something really fun. They pick it up quicker and retain it better.
Q: You said you don't expect to make much money with this program. Why make this a for-profit business?
A: Capitalism comes under a lot of fire for promoting greed, for not looking after the little people, for ignoring societal ills. I want this to be a sustainable model and not be another nonprofit looking for a handout.
Q: How many passports do you have to sell to reach a break-even point?
A: I haven't put those numbers down because I didn't know what to expect. I've already spent quite a bit of my own money on this. If we're going to fail, we're driving it off the cliff and we aren't going to leave any skid marks.
Q: Is there a sales threshold you need to hit in order to bring the program back next summer?
A: There's no question we'll bring it back next year. We're laying the foundation now. The original goal was to bring in 25 host businesses and to sell 100 passports. We've far exceeded those. The biggest fear was we'd get all these businesses on board and nobody interested in it. That's already proving false.
Zach Kyle: 377-6464, Twitter: @IDS_zachkyle