By the time Saint Paul College Business Instructor Linda Michel met Saint Paul Public Schools student Sandy Lee, the teen had already started two businesses—before age 17.
Lee was enrolled in the Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program, which lets high schoolers earn college credits for free. She gravitated toward the entrepreneurial mindset in the Ice House model Michel uses within her course.
Lee said that just as Uncle Cleve had responded to a need for ice during hot Mississippi summers in the book “Who Owns the Ice House: Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur,” she was giving her community products that filled a need—for affirming, empowering beauty products in her first business (selling lashes and clothing) and hard-to-find sweets in her second (selling mochi donuts).
Finding the Right Motivation
Like many teens, Lee was looking to make extra cash when she first started out.
“I found a passion for business and being an entrepreneur,” said Lee, who graduated from high school in May of 2022 and started attending the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in August. Her goal is to earn a Ph.D. in business administration.
Lee’s entrepreneurship coursework taught her a lot about the back end of business. “I love learning, and I’m always down for new things,” Lee said. When she and her partner decided to sell mochi donuts, they “learned how to market, write a business plan, and make progress on our business. We bought materials. We learned how to build our own website—and it was super fun,” Lee said.
While they’re both very entrepreneurial, Lee said she is the more business-minded of the two. Her partner (now her husband) prefers to be more hands-on.
Exploring Passion and Purpose
In her college application essay, Lee reflected on her love of entrepreneurship and its roots in her culture. “I come from a Hmong background, and there’s an emphasis on learning to provide for your family by selling the crops you grow,” she explained. She has also spoken to groups about the challenges, sacrifices, and rewards of being in business for yourself. “The hardest thing about running a business for me was staying motivated to do it constantly, day in and day out,” she said. “When I write speeches, I talk about those difficulties.”
Lee’s inspiring experiences encapsulate Michel’s approach to teaching entrepreneurship. “I’m there as a guide,” she said. “This is really the students’ story, not mine.” She instills an entrepreneurial mindset, encouraging them in the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others. She doesn’t tell them that starting a business is the only successful outcome.
“I tell them not to be afraid if you change your mind and decide not to open your business right now,” she said. “I give them the space to explore.”
In Lee’s case, between a busy full-time job, a traditional marriage, a move, and preparations for starting college, she’s been too busy to continue with her businesses. And thanks to the Ice House, she knows that’s OK. She recognizes how they helped with her personal growth—overcoming a fear of asking questions in class, for example. She knows she has a strong network of support in her family, friends, and professors.
Initially, her parents were worried about her choosing an entrepreneurial path. “But my parents are super supportive of me because I love what I do,” Lee said. “They saw the passion and how it was helping make me who I am.”
Uncle Cleve would wholeheartedly approve.