It's as much a part of the American dream as home ownership, family vacations and white picket fences -- being one's own boss, self-employment, entrepreneurship. But owning a business is not a venture reserved exclusively for adults.

That is one of the reasons Howard University's Small Business Development Center, with the cooperation of the District's Economic Development Finance Corporation, has offered District high school students the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship by developing their own businesses in the annual "Student Entrepreneurship Contest."

During school hours, student workshops were conducted with staff from Howard University's Small Business Development Center as well as members of the Economic Development Finance Corporation staff. Students from six or seven District high schools were coached on the requirements of a business plan. Students prepare plans which include information on their hypothetical businesses including target audiences their product or service will benefit, projected costs, preferred locations, expected competition, management and personnel, and a marketing strategy.

According to Nancy Flake, director of Howard's center, the contest is intended to stimulate student interest in developing businesses.

"Many young people are disenchanted with the prospect of full-time employment," Flake said. "They are already driven by the lure of fast money and the material things it can bring. Having them develop a business gives them another avenue to channel their creative energies and earn money."

Flake said many students develop ideas for small businesses that can be run after school or on weekends. Some past plans have included day care centers, catering business, car cleaning businesses and bakeries.

This year's contest, the third annual, is already underway. Students have been given three categories from which their businesses can be adapted. They can meet a need not currently available in their schools, a need not being met in their communities or a need in one of the District's targeted commercial revitalization areas.

Timothy Saunders, a financier with the Economic Development Finance Corporation, said that in addition to the cash reward of $500, students have an added incentive this year; his corporation will underwrite the cost of making the winning business proposal a reality. "We're looking for someone who already has the desire and drive, who has a strong entrepreneurship spirit to begin with," he said.

Sauders admitted however, that judging such a contest is difficult, "after all, there is no such thing as an original idea."

The contest is run in conjunction with Howard University's annual Salute to Blacks in Business and is open to District high school students as well as to District college students, who are judged separately. During the week-long salute, many students display samples of the goods and services they would offer in their dream businesses.