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If there's one school that knows how to give its students the business, it's Niagara Falls High School.

The school offers the Entrepreneurial Program, which teaches students all the things they need to know to start up and run a small business. Students also apply that knowledge by starting their own businesses and earning their own money.

Three years old, the program has grown from nine student businesses last year to 22 this year, with even more on the way. Last year, about 20 students participated in the program. This year, the figure is about 80.

Joseph Bellonte, program coordinator, said this year's student businesses offer an array of goods and services, from popcorn and gourmet coffee to helium balloons and customized blankets. Merchandise includes hoodies featuring the school's Wolverine logo, T-shirts and Live-STRONG bracelets. One company sells ads for school programs and publications, and another installs stereo equipment in cars, boats and homes. There is even an art gallery.

"I think the word got out about how good (and practical) it is," Bellonte said. "We teach kids all the things -- the process -- they need to know to start up and run a business. It gives them a chance to come up with an idea, start up a business and keep the money they make. I think that's a big incentive."

Last year, students saw the businesses in action and what was required for them to succeed.

"We've sold the (entrepreneurial) course," Bellonte said, both by having successful student businesses and "by advertising it on the Our Schools Channel," cable Channel 21, which is operated by the city school district.

Bellonte said students can earn six credits for college by completing entrepreneurial and marketing courses. The credits can be transferred to Niagara County Community College, where they will be applied toward a two-year associate's degree.

"I also think all kids want to be something someday and see this as a possible future where they can earn a living and be self-sufficient," Bellonte said. "This is an option, and they want to see what it's like."

Bellonte said that thus far, 22 student businesses are up and running or have applied for seed money of as much as $100.

One of the first businesses to start up is Wolverine Cuddles Co., run by Aimee Bruno, Mark Guetta, Melissa Jeckovich and Kristina Zaleski. The company manufactures custom sports blankets.

"I believe they've already sold 33 at $20 apiece," Bellonte said.


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