Northwestern High School student counts on hedge(hog) fund to help pay for collegeWith the cost of a college education increasing every year, some high school students are getting creative when looking for how to pay for it. Northwestern High School junior Robby Blair is hoping a collection of spiny little creatures will help him pay his way.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
With the cost of a college education increasing every year, some high school students are getting creative when looking for how to pay for it. Northwestern High School junior Robby Blair is hoping a collection of spiny little creatures will help him pay his way.
Blair is the founder of an online business — Rob’s Hedgehogs — that sells hedgehogs as pets. He has seen his business revenue triple since he launched his Web site, and he was recently recognized for his success.
Blair was one of two students in the state named Wisconsin’s 2010 Young Entrepreneurs of the Year. As part of the honor, the NHS junior will receive a plaque from Gov. Jim Doyle and receive an Entrepreneurial Training Grant offered through the Small Business Development Centers.
Caring for an adult hedgehog is fairly straightforward. Breeding hedgehogs and raising the young from infancy requires a bit more finesse, however.
“I have to leave the babies alone for the first two or three weeks because [the mother] can be cannibalistic, and she will eat the litter if I disturb her too much,” Blair said. “It has to be dead quiet. We keep them up in a bedroom that’s never used and it’s dark.”
Early on, Blair kept the mother and her babies in his parents’ laundry room, thinking it would be a dark, secluded space. Unfortunately it was also very noisy, which the mother hedgehog did not take well.
“That kind of got rid of a litter right there,” Blair said.
After the danger of losing the baby hedgehogs has passed, Blair looks over the litter and catalogues their colors and genders. Next, he begins the task of socializing them.
When hedgehogs are frightened, they curl up into a thorny ball and hiss. To keep them from assuming their defensive position, Blair spends time with the young hedgehogs every night after school to acclimate them to humans. By the time they’re ready to be sold as pets, he is familiar with each hedgehog’s personality.
Blair got the idea to begin his hedgehog business when he was in third grade. His teacher had a hedgehog named Thistle as a class pet. Over Christmas break, Blair had the opportunity to take the hedgehog home.
“I’m severely allergic to everything: furs, dusts, molds, almost everything there is,” Blair said. But with the hedgehog, Blair noticed his allergies didn’t act up.
“I decided, if they were allergy-friendly towards me, why not breed and maybe get more of these hedgehogs out there for people who are severely allergic to things,” Blair said.
Blair got his first hedgehog when he was in eighth grade. He didn’t seriously begin breeding and selling hedgehogs until he was a sophomore. To market his pet business, Blair set up a Web site, and this year his online venture took off.
“I’m proud of him for what he’s done,” said Greg Blair, his father. “He was looking for a business that wouldn’t take up too much of his time but would allow him to put away a little money for college.”
Back in Maple, Blair is sharing the story of his success. The junior has volunteered as a guest speaker in several of the classroom of Jody Forsythe, the teacher who nominated him for Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
“Students are fascinated about his business,” Forsythe said. “And it helps them to think of all the possibilities of being a business owner.”