They couldn’t have selected a more challenging time to learn how to develop a product and launch a new business.
Despite a pandemic which prevented the student entrepreneurs from meeting and selling their products in-person, disrupted plans for one-to-one sessions with local business and corporate mentors, and brought a steady stream of unanticipated challenges with product development, supply chains, and marketing, area students from nine high schools enrolled in the Junior Achievement Entrepreneurial Academy this Spring persevered.
In doing so, the students learned first-hand during the 16-week program what it takes to run a business when situations change from week-to-week, and that being able to quickly and smoothly pivot and adapt can be the difference between success and failure.
Junior Achievement of Southwest New England, based in Hartford, launched two Entrepreneurial Academy programs at the start of the year, based on the JA Company curriculum, which teaches students to fill a need or solve a problem in their community by launching a business venture drawing on their entrepreneurial spirit. One was led by volunteer mentors employed at The Hartford, the other by volunteer mentors at Pratt & Whitney and Goodwin University. Between the two programs, 20 volunteers began working with 26 students, as they began planning in February to develop a product, market and sell that product, and track income and expenses every step of the way.
Each group’s weekly sessions had barely begun, and the students had met for the first time less than two months previously, when COVID-19 changed just about everything midway through the semester.
The 11 students in The Hartford Entrepreneurial Academy attended Simsbury High School, East Hartford High School, Global Communications Academy (Hartford), New Britain High School, CREC Civic Leadership High School (Enfield), Sport and Medical Sciences Academy, and Newington High School. In the Pratt & Whitney/Goodwin University Entrepreneurial Academy, the 15 students were from the Connecticut IB Academy (Hartford), East Hartford High School, Global Communications Academy (Hartford), New Britain High School and Pathways Academy of Technology& Design (East Hartford).
Both programs switched over to virtual programming and dealt with the many changed circumstances, much like a “real” business.
The Hartford JA Entrepreneurial Academy students named their business “Perspective Ink.” They designed engraved shoe tags and bracelet tags, but quickly found that their inventory was delayed because their vendor was domiciled in China and had to limit production due to COVID-19. Because their schools were closed, they pivoted from in-person to online marketing. Social distancing prevented face-to-face deliveries and assembly line production locally, so they resorted to mailing products, which increased expenses and assembly of their products.
For the Pratt & Whitney/Goodwin University JA Entrepreneurial Academy, COVID-19 initially forced production of their picture frames, designed for Mother’s Day and Graduation sales, to be stopped, as inventory sources dried up. The students, who named their business “JA Customs,” changed from wooden frames to metal frames, and plans to individually engrave frames had to be cancelled due to social distancing requirements which prevented the student from working on-site with technicians. The marketing of the frames moved to social media due to school closures, and purchases needed to be mailed, incurring unanticipated costs, rather than in-person delivery.
“The adaptability and stick-to-it determination of these students was incredibly impressive,” said Jeremy Race, CEO of Junior Achievement of Southwest New England. “We couldn’t be more proud of what they were able to accomplish and how they got it done. Looking ahead to their futures, they couldn’t be more ready for whatever life brings. The guidance they received from their volunteer mentors and their own ingenuity, problem-solving, communication skills and leadership led to success in the midst of extremely challenging circumstances.”
The successes were phenomenal. Both groups successfully produced, marketed and sold products. The students of Perspective Ink developed a comprehensive and well-organized inventory tracking system, met sales goals and earned a return on investment for their shareholders. Additionally, the students decided to donate 20% of their proceeds to a nonprofit organization that supports those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. The students of JA Customs, in addition to individual orders, were able to secure a couple of bulk orders that helped to move their inventory. And the students decided to donate 100% of proceeds to a local nonprofit organization involved in community COVID-19 efforts.
“There were students within each of the business start-up programs that demonstrated leadership skills which helped motivate their team to persevere,” said Nicole Diorio, Director of Education, Junior Achievement of Southwest New England. “Kudos as well to the site teachers and volunteers who never questioned the students’ desire to move forward. Overall, their efforts were quite amazing - two great groups of students and volunteers!”
Junior Achievement is a global leader in providing cutting-edge, hands-on financial literacy, entrepreneurship and work-readiness education. The support of leading local businesses and individuals is indispensable in furthering JA's work with local schools throughout the region, and that spirit was demonstrated throughout the JA Entrepreneurial Academy in its remarkable 2020 edition.
Providing children from kindergarten through 12th grade with positive adult role models who illustrate ways to build self-confidence and develop financial literacy, entrepreneurship and work readiness skills, is a hallmark of Junior Achievement. JA volunteers come from all walks of life and use their personal experiences to make the JA curricula of more than a dozen programs practical and realistic, helping to empower students to own their economic success.
Last school year in Connecticut, with the help of more than 3,300 volunteers - business professionals, parents, retirees, and college students - JA of Southwest New England taught more than 47,000 Connecticut students about business, jobs, and the importance of education for success. In 2019, Junior Achievement of Southwest New England was awarded one of Junior Achievement USA’s highest honors for the fourth consecutive year: the Five Star Award, in recognition of its growth in student impact and superior fiscal performance.