Students from the Edison Tommie Co. vie for customers
MINNEAPOLIS -- Nicollet Mall through downtown Minneapolis is packed with teens staffing booths selling t-shirts, cookbooks, and other items as people hurry by on their way to work.
Several stop to hear the sales pitches of these young entrepreneurs who are part of Junior Achievement's North American Company of the Year Competition.
"It's in its second year," says Gina Blayney, president of JA of the Upper Midwest.
"It really takes us back into JA's history, which was founded in 1919," adds Blayney.
In fact, the contest used to be Junior Achievement's only program for young people, before it branched out and began offering programs aimed at students from kindergarten through high school.
JAUM is now reviving the contest locally, beginning with a team from Edison High School in Minneapolis, which represented Minnesota in this year's North American Company of the Year Competition, hosted by JAUM in Minneapolis.
Twenty-four teams from North America created businesses, complete with a business plan, marketing plan, HR plan and even investors.
The idea is to create an actual product or service that will make money, deliver a return for the shareholders, and at the same time, give these high school students a taste of what it takes to create and run a business.
Edison's team was mentored by staffers from Best Buy.
"We would go to weekly sessions in Best Buy headquarters," says Edison senior Mohamed Ahmed.
"We got to meet the finance people that helped us with the financing aspect, the public relations that helped us with the PR aspect of it," says Ahmed. "So we got all, basically a business aspect of our product and what we could do."
What the students did was create a cookbook to highlight the diverse student body and staff at Edison High School.
Their company, the Edison Tommie Company, gathered recipes representing the school's 40 different cultures, then designed and created the cook book, "Taste the World."
They quickly learned their business plan had a glitch.
"The same day that we were going to take the book to Kinko's to get it copied, they told us that it was plagiarism," says Edison senior Briseida Gomez.
The staff at Kinko's told the students they needed to verify where the recipes came from, and get written permission to use the material.
Students hit the phones with mixed success. Jax's Cafe was one restaurant that let the students reprint its recipe for Banana Bailey's Cream Torte for free.
"These young people have had to work together to trouble shoot those challenges, and create new strategies and address those barriers," says J-A's Blayney.
While Edison's team didn't win the competition, they have come away with a hard-won understanding of business they didn't have before, not to mention an appreciation for the possibilities ahead.
"A lot of us were not even considering being an entrepreneur, but after this was so successful, and how the community rallied behind us and helped us out so much, we were considering being entrepreneurs ourselves," says Ahmed.
Blayney says JAUM is now considering ways to expand the program to more Minnesota schools.
"This is the essence of Junior Achievement," says Blayney.
"It goes back to the essence of a free market economy, and that's entrepreneurship, and the great entrepreneurs that our country has produced."
Gomez beams with pride as she shows off the cook book to a fellow competitor from another school. "It was a long process, but it was fun. It was a really good experience."
Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest
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