A manufacturing and marketing company made up of 19 middle school students will bring its product to Harbor Market the next two Saturdays. They hope to show off their business acumen — and make a return for their investors.
The summer program is a cooperative effort of Junior Achievement, Leeward Business Advisors and the Kenosha School of Technology Enhanced Curriculum, or KTEC. Like businesses in the real world, the students had to conceive of a product they could create themselves, raise capital, manufacture it and, come this weekend, bring it to market. Literally.
“The goal is to get youths of Kenosha exposed to what entrepreneurial spirit looks like,” said Michael Polzin, chief executive of Leeward Business Advisors. “And, to generate some understanding on what operating a business looks like. We want them to have that front of mind as they progress through their careers, so they know that they have that ability.”
“This is something that our teachers wouldn’t necessarily have the time or the expertise to teach,” said Kristen Krief, who works in media and community relations for Kenosha Unified School District. “Having Junior Achievement finance it, in partnership with companies like Leeward, gives a real world experience to the kids. And, it’s something we wouldn’t be able to provide on our own.”
Unlike school year programs, the longer summer timeframe gave the young business people the opportunity to approach the project in a start-to-finish effort. In business school, it’s referred to as a capstone project.
“What we really like about the Junior Achievement approach is that it completely integrates with the core curriculum” of the school, explained Polzin, “but the majority of it is delivered by an external volunteer who comes into the classroom. It could be a parent. It could be business owner or community member. It creates a different perspective and relationship between student and the mentor.”
Kief added that maybe the most important part of this project is that it is student-led. From the original product brainstorming to product design to face-to-face selling this Saturday, the young business people have called all of the shots.
‘Facilitated, not guided’
Explained Polzin: “This program was very much facilitated, not guided. The students were posed a question: What is a product or service that you could take to market and generate a profit from?”
The students created teams to define their target market, brainstorm a list of problems, and come up with solutions by going through a business fitness analysis.
“They considered niches versus fads versus commodities, and where they wanted to focus,”said Polzin.
The students took part in a pitch night to investors, where they sold 101 shares at $10 each. It raised to $1,010 to bootstrap their company. The result was 100 percent above their anticipated capitalization goal. “They have guaranteed a 10 percent return to their investors,” added Polzin, “so they have a bit of an ROI crunch.”
Get ready for T-CUBE
Through their own brainstorming, the student business has created T-CUBE — Textured Cube Usable By Everyone — a fidget-type object. Like many consumer products, it went through several design changes and manufacturing iterations.
James Lathrop and Sam Infusino of the supply chain team recounted the bumps in the road in the original design of their cube. “We started by coming up with designs for our products, coming up with the template to use in the 3D printer, and then we had to order the (materials),” Lathrop said. “Now, we are making the product and repeating that process.”
“The hardest part was the original design,” added Infusino. “There was a computer error and we lost our design twice.”
The first design was 3 inches on each side, which the students said was both too big and too costly. And, through their revision process, the decision to make the product smaller actually made it stronger and significantly faster to produce on a 3D printer.
Joseph Mendoza and Skylar Farr of the marketing team have been busy producing materials that will promote the product at the point of sale.
“Mainly we have been doing the advertising, like creating the poster boards,” said Mendoza. “And we make lists of what we need” to sell products on-site at Harbor Market. “We basically spread the word.”
Added Farr: “We also create websites and we have a couple of social media accounts. Everyone was involved in naming the product.”
Preparing students for change
“Junior Achievement doesn’t have a welding program or a coding program,” explained Nick Lyons, the JA director serving Kenosha and Racine counties. “What we have are general skills and information that we add to the context, and make sure the program runs smoothly. We complement what a high school program does.
“The only thing we know for sure about the next three or four decades is your job is going to change. The world is going to change. We need people who can adapt and learn as they go and evolve. That’s what’s going to give the best life and career possible.”
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