Under the scenic backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the fertile soil of the Virginia Piedmont, Tina Weaver cultivates all–American agriculture and dreams.
Weaver, a high school teacher, and her husband, a seventh–generation farmer, raise grain, swine and beef on a farm originally owned by President James Madison.
It's on this land that the Weavers launched a successful sausage business called "Papa Weaver's Pork." The business grew from a seed of an inadvertent idea when Weaver was completing a Master's in business administration at Strayer University in Fredericksburg, VA.
"I would go to night class, and other students were coming in from DC. I felt bad for them because they never ate dinner," Weaver says. "I fixed sausage biscuits, and I brought them some."
Response to the pork was overwhelmingly positive. Her peers insisted that Weaver make money off her product. Weaver crafted her business plan as she advanced through her MBA program. "Even in marketing, I came up with the name and the look," she says.
Today, the Weavers distribute their products, which contain no nitrates, preservatives or chemicals, throughout several Virginia counties, and they sell to local restaurants and farmer's markets. Papa Weaver's Pork also won a Virginia's Finest designation.
Weaver translates this real–world business know–how to the classroom at Madison County High School. She teaches an introduction to the principles of business and "Business 100" that allows students to earn college credit. Students start out in the intro class and concept a business plan. As juniors and seniors, they take "Business 100" and develop their idea. Many of the students actually start the businesses they dream up.
"It's amazing what these kids will do," Weaver says. Her students have big aspirations in the beginning, but as they research the nuances of their business plans, which range from 60 to 150 pages, they start to pare down. Weaver recalls one young man who wanted to open a sports bar in downtown Washington, DC. When he did his business plan, he needed $10 million for land. After a cost–benefit analysis, he realized he'd be dead before he saw a profit.
The students might start out big, but the business development process and Weaver's personal experience guide them to focus. Her students learn how to phase their business plans for realistic implementation, and some of them are already making money.
This is an important component to Weaver's lesson. She believes students can run their own successful businesses. "I think there's a preconceived notion that teenagers can't run their own business, that they don't have what it takes to create a business," Weaver says. "After this class they're shocked at the possibilities. Especially when they watch their peers make money, and they're awe inspired to think differently."
One young man from a farming background took the introductory class as a freshman. His father gave him some land, and he asked Weaver what he could do. He wanted a quick turnaround so Weaver convinced him on corn. She told him he could sell it to grocery stores and farmer's markets.
Weaver says, "This year, he marketed it, and he had at any given time 20 people in line. He sold out in an hour." Now, he's channeling the profits from the corn in to cars. He's staring an antique auto refurbishing company, and heading to college to study business. Weaver says, "With the corn he sold, he also paid for gas to get to school. He set his goal for his business and made it."
Students take Weaver's class seriously. And they don't let each other get off too easily either. "At the end of the year, they have to present. They need to sell their peers on their company and get them to invest," Weaver says. "Everyone wants to know how they arrive at their numbers. They have to defend their entire business plan."
Weaver understands that she's giving her students hope for successful financial futures, and that their dreams can become realities. "I love what I do," she says, "The students who get an A on this project, they could take it to a bank and get a loan."