With an idea that “exhibited classic entrepreneurial spirit” during difficult times, Manhattan High School senior Porter Blanchard turned his idea for a drive-in movie theater into a successful enterprise that also won the top award in a national competition for youth entrepreneurs.
Blanchard said he came up with the idea for the theater even before he knew about the competition. When COVID-19 shutdowns prevented people from partaking in their normal recreational pursuits, he had an idea to provide -- in the words of his own advertising – “A Safe Way to Social Distance and Have Fun” with drive-in movies in his family’s pasture in Churchill.
In addition to providing entertainment for families in their cars, parked at a safe distance from other movie-goers, Blanchard said he wanted to contribute to his family’s finances because his father’s dental office was closed during the initial shutdown.
When Blanchard pitched the idea to his Manhattan High School business teacher Lexi Glaus, she encouraged him to submit the idea in “The Big Idea” contest sponsored by Youth Entrepreneurs, whose curriculum she used this year to teach budding entrepreneurs in Manhattan. Blanchard submitted a business plans along with a video presentation, and won first prize in the contest’s “Service” category, as well as the overall first prize in the nation.
Jim Masker, who manages Montana’s Youth Entrepreneurs program, said YE focuses not just on training future business people, but also on teaching foundational values that will enable those students to pursue “principled entrepreneurship” or serve their communities in other ways.
“While we hope that students will at some point in their lives start business, that’s not our only objective,” Masker said. “We hope they will be good citizens who look at solving problems in their communities.”
Though Masker said he isn’t privy to the deliberations of the panel of judges, he suspects Blanchard’s proposal stood out to them because of its adherence to Youth Entrepreneurs’ core values.
“If you think about what he was doing, he was not only providing income to his family, but also creating a business that provided social service,” Masker said.
Glaus, who said she is impressed with Blanchard’s compassion, agrees.
“I think it was his creativity during this time, and unique approach to solving a problem,” she said. “He hit it out of the park.”
Blanchard stressed his desire to be of service while giving a tour of his pasture-turned-theater on Memorial Day, just a couple of hours before a showing of “The Patriot.” He explained his main start-up costs were for a structure to hold up a canvas screen, as well as a radio broadcaster to transmit an FM signal to car radios. He acquired the materials and equipment with a $500 loan from Youth Entrepreneurs, which he paid back within 15 days from drive-in proceeds.
Blanchard is putting future proceeds – along with his $6,000 in prize money -- toward his expenses for a two-year, church service mission in Guatemala. He leaves in August.
After he returns, Blanchard said he will keep up his business studies. He plans to study mechanical engineering and accounting so he can support himself as a CPA while he designs and creates as “a side hustle.”
Before he leaves for his mission, Blanchard intends to offer movies throughout the summer. As the business grows, he may add a concession stand where he will offer pre-packaged treats such as ice cream, popsicles and candy bars.
Admission to the pasture is $15 per car. Movie listings and showtimes can be found on Facebook at The Pasture Drive-In Theater, or on Instagram at the_pasture_drivein.