When Kurtis Greenwood, a 17-year-old student, joined Junior Achievement (JA) at High School for Recording Arts (HSRA) in September, he was unsure if he and his peers were up to the task of starting a business. Having never worked in a business before, Greenwood had no idea how his first time out of the entrepreneurial gate would turn out.
“I thought it was going to be very hard to do a start-up business,” said Greenwood. “I wasn’t sure what to expect.”
That’s partly why he and 11 other HSRA students were so elated last week when they learned their company, Leave Your Mark Everywhere (L.Y.M.E.), had won the regional JA Company Program Competition. A student-run company, L.Y.M.E. was created as a marketing and advertising service for the purpose of writing and producing custom radio advertisements for local businesses.
Judged on an oral presentation, the submission of a ten-page company report, and an appearance before a panel, the five HSRA students who were selected to attend the regional competition on April 14, stood before a room full of judges comprised of local business owners and managers. By winning the regional competition, all 12 students are now eligible to compete in the North American JA Competition, to be held later this year in Washington, D.C., where the budding business owners will contend with other students from the U.S. and Canada.
What makes the win especially meaningful to HSRA students and faculty members is that this is the first year the school has ever participated in JA, an organization whose mission touts the “belief in the boundless potential of young people,” and stresses its commitment to the “principles of market-based economics and entrepreneurship.” HSRA students beat longtime regional winner Minneapolis Edison High School in the 2011 competition.
Facing time constraints, HSRA students had only four months to formulate their business, conceptualize, and take their product to market, according to Sayra Loftus, an HSRA student advisor and math facilitator.
“After our students started brainstorming about what business they wanted to pursue, they chose to provide a service that included low overhead and little start-up cost,” according to Loftus. “They picked something where they could use the talents they were already using in class and could continue to do after JA.”
L.Y.M.E., the HSRA student-run business, was able to recruit eight client businesses surrounding University Avenue in St. Paul. Each paid the emerging business leaders $125 for four 30-second, custom made radio commercials to run on 96.3 Now radio station. The commercials aired during an HSRA student-run show aired each week on 96.3 Now.
Tony Simmons, HSRA program/development director, said he wasn’t surprised that HSRA students pulled out a regional win during the first year of the school’s participation in J.A. “The students’ victory is in line with the tremendous work they have been doing all year long. This has been a banner year for community participation and student achievement at HSRA.”
HSRA founder David “T.C.” Ellis chimed in, “Really, the win goes to the heart of why HSRA was founded in the first place; to be a dynamic presence in the community where students are exceeding their academic goals.”
That sentiment was echoed by Matt Steele, State Farm’s Vice President of Agency for Minnesota. “The experience the students had with Junior Achievement is the same experience we at State Farm had with HSRA young people. The [students’] work is always rooted in high expectations.” In an effort to combat large drop-out rates among young people, State Farm has begun to work with HSRA on a high-profile national media campaign, entitled “26 Seconds.com,” featuring HSRA students encouraging other students from across the U.S. to remain in school.
Although the student-run J.A. business eventually succeeded, the process wasn’t seamless, explained Loftus.
“The kids had great ideas and wanted to start a business,” said Loftus. “However, there were still attendance issues, concerns about consistency, and the differing commitment level of each student to contend with.”
In essence, the JA experience was baptism by fire for Loftus, a first-year instructor at HSRA, who had taught sixth-graders for the past three years in the Bronx at MS 223 Laboratory School of Finance and Technology, in New York.
Loftus stuck with the 12 JA students through thick and thin as the teenage business-hopefuls would take one step forward and two steps backward. When asked why Loftus was so confident the students would be successful in their inaugural JA run, Loftus explained, “During the past six months, I have seen the students grow in maturity and take on adult responsibilities. I never changed my expectations. We talked about fallbacks. But I always kept moving forward and expecting our students would succeed.”
And, succeed they did. In the end, HSRA students realized a net profit of $994 and contributed money to two charities: Feed My Starving Children, where students donated money and took time to package food for children around the world; and the Red Cross Japan Earthquake Tsunami Fund.
When asked to sum up his Junior Achievement experience, Kurtis Greenwood had no shortage of words or enthusiasm.
“My favorite part of the experience was writing proposals, business plans and reports,” stated Greenwood. “We worked together for something positive. This was my first step toward greatness and running my own business, a key part of my goal in the community. We were successful in starting a company and running a company. And, in the end, we gave a 400 percent return to our stockholders.”
Not bad the first time out of the Junior Achievement gate . . . for both students and teacher.