It was just before 9 a.m. on a cold, late-November morning, and in the lobby of Celebration!Cinema North, Kelloggsville High School students were setting up tables to display their wares.
What would get these students up so early on a day where they might ordinarily sleep in? The occasion was the Junior Achievement (JA) Fall Movie Premiere, during which area JA students get a chance to sell to a movie audience and then see the movie (in this case, “Frozen 2”). As budding entrepreneurs, many of whom have a passion for business, the chance to sell their products to strangers was enticing.
“These students have done some selling at school and maybe to friends and family,” noted Kelloggsville social studies and business teacher Ryan Zuiderveen, who mentors his school’s JA teams. “But this was the first real public event like this. It’s exciting.”
He continued: “The money earned is a very small part of the event. They are put in a situation that is a little outside of their comfort zone, they have to try to anticipate the wants of an unknown customer group, they see the need for inventory. And it is such a cool moment for students to bring their families and take them out to the movies. The work students do with their business paying dividends for them and their families.”
Triscenta Team in ‘Soothing Pink’
Hard to miss at Celebration!Cinema was the trio from Triscenta (the name is a play on three friends making scented candles). They were clad in matching pink T-shirts (soothing, they said, “like our candles”) emblazoned with their business logo, which also features prominently on their candles for sale.
They’d chosen the candle business after deciding they wanted to do something around smell. “It’s one of the five senses, you know,” Roberto said. After kicking around a few ideas that didn’t seem practical, they landed on candles. “Everyone loves candles,” added Samuel.
They headed to YouTube to do their research and found a 20-minute video that pretty much laid out the process from start to finish. From there, it was a matter of where to set up shop. Samuel’s house became HQ for Triscenta, simply because it was centrally located for all three team members. His parents were cool with it, said Samuel, with the only stipulation being that the three entrepreneurs clean up after themselves.
“The first time or two we were pretty messy,” Erik said.
“But we’ve gotten a lot better,” added Roberto.
The team orders all its supplies – soy wax, scented oil, wicks and glass jars – from Amazon, and candle-making events are now a well-oiled machine. The wax gets melted in a double burner, fragrance gets added, wicks get set up in jars and the pouring begins. Later, the jars are adorned with the team’s logo on a vinyl sticker that they produce on a Cricut die-cutting machine that Zuiderveen procured from a relative and keeps at the high school.
Zuiderveen, who put himself through college in part by running his own painting company, says Triscenta is a great example of what he tries to do with his business class and its partnership with Junior Achievement (JA).
The class is an elective, and between its two sections attracted more than 50 students this semester. All students are expected to start a business, either on their own or with fellow classmates. Along the way, they receive guidance and support from Zuiderveen, JA and a variety of guest mentors. Students handle everything from raising capital and tracking finances to marketing and sales.
“I have shaped the curriculum around entrepreneurship,” said Zuiderveen. “The students have really taken off with the program this year. Most weeks we have a theme or two – mission statements, finance, logo creation and so on – and the rest of the time is applying the concepts to their businesses.”
Students also get a chance to hear from current and former business professionals.
Steve Carlson retired in June after 17 years with GE Aviation and Smiths Aerospace, including work as senior global director in the customer account management group. He’s been a JA volunteer for 40 years, but is in his first year at Kelloggsville working with the student businesses.
He and a team of GE volunteers go into the classroom once a week for 13 weeks to help the students start a business, make and sell products and then liquidate the company before the end of the semester.
Owning their Economic Future
Carlson said he loves the opportunity to help students learn about leadership, sales, finance and working as a team to achieve goals.
“JA,” he said, “is a great organization that inspires students to own their economic future. It doesn’t matter if they ever start a business or are just smarter consumers. In JA they get mentored by local volunteers in every grade from kindergarten to high school. This helps them understand how businesses work and gives them the opportunity to explore careers that are aligned with their interests and skills.”
Kelloggsville currently has 13 businesses as part of the program, and four were at the Celebration!Cinema event (space constraints limited the number of participants).
In addition to Triscenta, there was ACT (Alexcia Jaramillo, Cindy Calderon and Luis “Tony” Diaz), selling clothing that could be customized; KCNO (Kristina Healey, Cynthia Marcelino-Martinez, Noemi Pedro-Rafael and Olga Pizano-Garcia), selling handmade pouches, bags and scrunchies; and Milartn (a play on the name of team member Milan Huynh and her work as an artist), selling handmade coasters.
Prior to the event, the four businesses had combined for about $1,000 in sales, said Zuiderveen, and the theater event saw the four teams combine for another $200 in sales.
After the event, Zuiderveen had each team respond to a series of questions in an Excel spreadsheet. The answers were informative, he said, and spoke to some of the challenges of running a business.
Some students thought the event was great, and said they sold more than they thought they would. Others noted that the young audience for the movie meant that some team’s products did better than others.
“I learned that our products don’t really appeal to younger kids,” one respondent wrote. Another added: “I would recommend making sure that everyone knows who the customers will be, so that they can make sure that their products will appeal to everyone there.”
Zuiderveen said he loves that feedback because it fits with the JA approach to experiential learning. Events like those at the theater also help students get ready for future challenges and opportunities, he said.
Indeed, next spring Zuiderveen, a second-year teacher at Kelloggsville, plans to bring teams to a student business competition (he describes it as “almost like a nicer Shark Tank”) that will give them a chance to take home scholarships. He added that last year a Kelloggsville team took home first place, and he is hoping to send a team to the national competition this year.
Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes