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July 08, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Tolsma sisters kickoff second annual CEO Camp for middle school students

Ann Baker Tolsma and Lee Belle Tolsma hope to inspire other female students to pursue entrepreneurship and business leadership.

On Monday, female middle-school students from across Knox County joined together to participate in the second annual “CEO Camp.” It was started by Ann Baker Tolsma in 2023, but this year she’s passing the leadership baton to her younger sister Lee Belle.

CEO Camp is an opportunity for students to gain a better understanding of business and entrepreneurship. They work through all the sides of what it takes to build a business; including, ideation, manufacturing, marketing, scaling, and building a personal brand.

This year, the middle school students will develop phone cases as the basis for their business ideas. They will create their company name, design their case, create mock marketing campaigns, and learn about growth strategies.

Last year, the camp had about 15 girls. Both Ann and Lee Belle said through word of mouth they had 24 girls sign up for this year’s camp.

2023 CEO Camp

“We hope it plants seeds of entrepreneurship in these girls,” Ann said. ” I took entrepreneurship classes at Webb and I fell in love with the flexible and creative leadership aspect of it. We are trying to bring that opportunity to more, younger students.”

However, the Webb classes weren’t the Tolsma sisters’ first interaction with entrepreneurship. They shared how both their mother and grandmother found success in business and entrepreneurship.

“Through my mom, I saw the importance of having women in leadership. We bring to the table such unique critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” Ann said.

Lee Belle added, “My grandmother also showed that when women set their minds on something, we can do so much in the business world.”

Modeled after the influential women in their lives, the Tolsma sisters opened a lemonade stand in their younger years, which made them more than $1,000 in a single summer. After that experience, they were both hooked on pursuing entrepreneurship. They want other young girls to share similar experiences.

“When they first come into the camp, we share the prompt and they get creative. Getting to watch these students think big, and see their idea come to life at the end is such an inspiring thing to watch,” Lee Belle said.

Ann added, “Watching the creativity and design is my favorite part. I’m excited to see what kinds of phone cases they come up with this year.”

The Tolsma sisters will be changing leadership roles at the camp since Ann graduated from Webb. She was accepted into Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and plans to continue her entrepreneurial journey.

Lee Belle is a sophomore at Webb and will be staying in the Knoxville area. She is excited to step into the role! will be attending the final showcase at the camp on Friday to feature the works of the participants.

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