NEW PORT RICHEY — River Ridge High School’s business entrepreneurs honor class had a tasty lesson in starting a business after an introduction by the Economic Development Council and Lanky Lassie’s Shortbread.

The special class lecture was a collaborative effort to teach students about money-making decisions that are involved with opening a business, from pricing products to customer satisfaction. Students were asked to taste a small piece of shortbread and then answer some questions, as well as give feedback, to local business owner Mary Katherine Mason-Sauter.

Mason-Sauter explained to students how it was through the EDC’s SMARTstart program that she got a leg up into making her business grow. SMARTstart is a program funded through Penny for Pasco that is all about assisting entrepreneurs through guidance, collaboration, funding, education, and workspace opportunities. There are three SMARTstart locations in Pasco: Dade City, New Port Richey, and Wesley Chapel.

The EDC’s SMARTstart program director, Dan Mitchell, shared some words of wisdom to the students. “Tell me more,” he said. “That’s all you need to ask your customers to get good information.”

By following her great-grandmother’s shortbread recipe, Mason-Sauter has found success in sharing a beloved Scottish treat with Americans across the country. The recipe was even a winner of the Scottish Highland Games’ shortbread competition. It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic hit that Mason-Sauter resorted to turning a hobby into a career that would support her family.

So, she turned to the SMARTstart program to help get the proper licensing and tools needed for her business.

“I lost my job in 2020,” Mason-Sauter said. “Luckily, there was a SMARTstart building two miles from my home. It had a commercial kitchen just big enough for me to bake my shortbread.”

Students spent half of the lesson asking questions and taking notes. Their teacher, Chad Mallo, has them working on a yearlong project, a business model canvas that has them researching customer problems, looking at solutions, startup costs, and ongoing costs. At end of the year, students are asked to make a pitch at three levels — classroom, school, and district. River Ridge has won first and second place in the years past at the Pasco District Young Entrepreneurship Competition.

“Who knows what can come out of today,” Mitchell added. “Educating the kids is great, but I also thought, how can I leverage it for one of the entrepreneurs? Mary Katherine is going to come out of this with some valuable feedback. I wanted to give the students a real live case study and they didn’t just ask questions about the shortbread and the store, they asked all kinds of good business questions.”

Mallo added, “It’s been my dream that it’s not just a classroom project. We have two students who won last year that are trying to get their product to market and are looking for an investor. Their product is called ‘Kids in Vest’ and they won second place last year. The vests are to make students walking or bicycling to and from school visible, because we’ve had a fatality in the past.”

To learn more about the EDC’s SMARTstart program, visit www.smartstartpasco.com.