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July 17, 2023 | Tom Ballard

“CEO Camp” exposes 14 middle schoolers to entrepreneurship

The weeklong event was the idea of Ann Baker Tolsma, Webb School's House Council President.

Fourteen female middle school students spent last week learning about entrepreneurship from business leaders and showcasing their own ideas during the inaugural “CEO Camp for Young Women” held at Webb School of Knoxville.

The event brought together young women from across Knoxville, including Camp Webb summer camp attendees and a group of young leaders from Emerald Academy. Together, they were focused on bridging gaps within the greater Knoxville region and its business community while also studying the principles of entrepreneurship.

The idea for the entrepreneurial-focused camp came from Ann Baker Tolsma, a 17-year-old rising senior at Webb and the school’s House Council President, who has been inspired by generations of women leaders in her own family.

“I was excited to see a passion of mine bring girls together from different backgrounds and empower the next generation of female leaders,” Tolsma said. “At Webb, I have experienced firsthand the power of mentorship, education, and community in unlocking the potential of students. Through this camp, we aimed to demonstrate how much we can impact the world if we collaborate and support each other.”

Dee Haslam (left) and Ann Baker Tolsma

During the weeklong event, the students spent five hours each day delving into all phases of entrepreneurship, including ideation, planning, budgeting, creating, selling, and scaling an idea successfully. The solution-driven curriculum encouraged campers to think creatively about a company challenge and discover their passions, which could lead to future economic innovation. Speakers included Dee Haslam, Founder of Knoxville’s RIVR Media and Co-Owner of the Cleveland Browns, and Lisa Stinnett, Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Greater Sum Ventures.

The week ended with the students demonstrating what they learned in a “Shark Tank”-style pitch event where they presented their ideas and detailed how they would build them into viable businesses.

On the eve of the pitch event, we asked Tolsma how well she thought the inaugural “CEO Camp” had gone. “It exceeded my expectations,” she told us, adding that she hopes it will be offered again in 2024.

“Collaboration among local schools, like the ‘CEO Camp,’ exemplifies the importance of working together to create opportunities for our students,” said Ansel Sanders, the newly installed President of Webb School of Knoxville. “By reaching out and partnering with the greater community in different ways, we can provide an enriched educational experience for all involved. This focus on uplifting young women aligns with our mission of equipping students with the skills for lifelong success.”

The CEO camp is a collaboration between Webb School’s Entrepreneurship Program and the school’s longstanding summer day camp program, Camp Webb. A pillar of Webb’s strategic plan, the Entrepreneurship Program, which is in its fourth year, focuses on courses and experiences to propel a new generation of “solutionaries” that can solve real-world problems.

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