For the first time since Junior Achievement of Central Upstate New York began hosting the JA Titan of Business Challenge here a decade ago, a Rochester City School District school took top honors in the annual contest. It also was the first time each of the team members from the top three teams was female.
The first place team of Paw Hsee Gay, Margie Brunelle and Raia Weathers hail from World of Inquiry School No. 58. Second place honors went to the team of Madison Conn, Trinity Allen and Maya Charcholla from Gates Chili Central School District. Third place was awarded to the team of Lauren Jarvis, Abby Menz and Abby Jarvis, also from Gates Chili.
The young men and women participate in a business simulation through their high school’s business, economics or entrepreneurship classes. Each team has to create a product and take that product from conception to marketing to production.
Students work with a business mentor in the classroom as they compete as the CEO of an online, technology-based company. Students immerse themselves in a state-of-the-art simulation model in the classroom for several weeks before competing in the finals.
Some 75 teams from across the region competed virtually to be one of 33 teams chosen for the finals, held at St. John Fisher College on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s event featured a keynote address from Michael Mandina, president of Optimax Systems Inc.
“I want to point out that what you’re doing here today is important,” Mandina said to the teenagers in attendance. “And why it’s important is because the U.S. competes in the world economy. And without real wealth creation, without prosperity and innovation, you cannot fight poverty. You cannot prosper and grow and evolve and make the world a better place.”
JA President and CEO Patricia Leva told this year’s students to take advantage of the numerous business leaders in the audience.
“Because you never know, the person seated with you could be the one to give you your first job or help you through that college admissions process or might even be able to help you with that business idea,” Leva said.
She said an important aspect of JA Titans is it makes good business sense.
“It’s important for students to know about financial literacy, whether they’re going to apply it to business or apply it to their personal P&L,” Leva said. “And it also provides important workplace skills: collaboration, communication, creativity, teamwork.”
Webster Thomas High School had four of its five teams qualify for the JA Titans finals, said Scott Deuschle, program manager for Webster Thomas High School’s Young Entrepreneur Academy (YEA).
“The class that I’m teaching, each of these groups had to create either a service business, a product business or it could be a social movement, and they had to pitch their ideas to a panel of investors and earn real startup funds for that, kind of like ‘Shark Tank’ style,” Deuschle noted.
The Webster Thomas team of Brendan Frye and Sam Serkiyuk were awarded $720 for startup costs for their product, the Smoke Shield. The duo also plans to use the funds to start the patent process for their product.
“When you’re sitting in front of a campfire and smoke gets in your face, you hold it up and it blocks it out,” Frye explained. “We both like camping and the outdoors so that’s how we developed that.”
Serkiyuk said he will do the marketing and sales for the new product, while Frye will work on the production end. Serkiyuk said he plans to enter the workforce as an entrepreneur when he graduates from high school.
“It gave me the momentum to get it done,” he said. “So this really helped me understand the process. This gave me a steppingstone.”
Frye said that while he always has had big dreams, the JA Titans program went beyond that.
“It showed me that if you really put in the work, if you really put in the time, if you really get others to believe in your product, it actually works,” Frye said.