The Ministry of Education has revealed the results of an entrepreneurship initiative for academics and university students that was organized to boost rural economies and help elementary schools in danger of closing create viable business models.
The project, organized by National Sun Yat-sen University, solicited proposals from 12 universities for collaborative projects with rural elementary schools.
By identifying the strengths of local industries and creating unique business models for underdeveloped areas, the teams have over the past two years managed to prevent several elementary schools from closing and curbed workforce drain common in such areas, the ministry said.
Nanya Institute of Technology assistant professor Chen Chi-yi (陳啟益) said that when he first arrived at Hualien County’s Wenlan Village (文蘭), he was stumped by the village’s business potential, as the products being sold were either brought from other places or handcrafted and therefore had limited production volume.
As he learned more about the community, he found that Wenlan Elementary School had been designated a key member of a ministry program to promote educational and sightseeing tours.
He said he had the idea of transforming unused classrooms and school buildings into bed-and-breakfast accommodation, providing guests with convenient access to the village’s rustic charms.
The elementary school received investment from a venture capital firm, Chen said, adding that he hopes blending local attractions with additional features would create job opportunities so that young people who left Wenlan to look for work can return.
I-Shou University assistant professor Chang Heng-yan (張姮燕) said that when she arrived at Pingtung County’s Sandimen Village (三地門), she found only small areas of red quinoa cultivation, as the crop was largely destroyed by Typhoon Morakot in 2009.
Chang, who teaches hospitality management, said she came up with a plan to bake cakes with red quinoa filling.
Under an Academia Sinica project to revive the crop at Maer Settlement (馬兒部落), where the Shekou Elementary School is located, Chang signed a contract with red quinoa farmers to ensure a steady supply of ingredients.
She set up a bakery at the school and asked her students to create a Web page for people to order quinoa cakes and cakes made from walnuts and locally farmed taro.
The project has not only created job opportunities for parents, but also allowed students to learn how to bake, Chang said.
Her team launched a fundraising campaign to create a brand which, if successful, would be run by her students, Chang said.
National University of Tainan associate professor Lee Yun-ping (李芸蘋), who was assigned to assist Miaoli County’s Shuang-Lian Elementary School, said her goal is to promote a brand of high-quality pears unique to Jhoulan Township (卓蘭) producers.
Using the school as a marketing center, Lee detailed her mission on local fundraising platform flyingV, where her team raised NT$580,000.
By marketing the pears as gift packages, the team earned a net profit of NT$400,000, from which it took NT$210,000 after splitting the proceeds with local pear farmers.
A number of her students have established start-ups to market the fruit, while others landed teaching jobs at the school, which is the outcome she had hoped to achieve, Lee said.