Hamilton's Entrepreneurial Adventure: Students get Business 101

Grade 8 students at Memorial School get the business basics from their entrepreneur mentor.
Watch REffcient CEO Stephanie McLarty give Memorial School;s grade 8's a lesson in business. 2:11

Long before most people are privy to such knowledge, Christopher Blunsdon's Grade 8 students got an inside look at the inner workings of a successful business.

Today, these 13- and 14-year-olds are tasked with absoring post-secondary level concepts: market strategies, costing and product scalability. But no sweat — they are, after all, knee-deep in developing their own businesses.

The students at Memorial School at Main and Ottawa streets are participating in Entrepreneurial Adventure, a program to engage students in the creative process of starting a business in a hands-on way.

Entrepreneurial Adventure is a program offered nationwide by The Learning Partnership organization. Students are partnered with a local successful entrepreneur who helps a class design their own business. CBC reporter Julia Chapman is following Memorial School's progress throughout their journey through the program. This is our third instalment. 

Their entrepreneur mentor, REfficient CEO Stephanie McLarty, visits Blunsdon's classes to impart her success onto the students. She asks about their product ideas that use some recycled materials found in her company's warehouse.

Miranda, who Blunsdon said has been a class leader with this project,  introduces her class's recycled pop-tab bracelets.

Emilie models her class' recycled pop-tab bracelets. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

 McLarty is impressed with the idea of making jewelry from recycled materials. She herself happens to be wearing earrings made from discarded guitar picks.

The product is scalable, meaning it can be mass-produced to meet market demands, and using pop-tabs, there won't be a shortage of resources.

Miranda chimes in again with more answers: about five or six people outside of the class have been taught to make them and it takes about 30 minutes to produce one bracelet. Her classmate Emilie said you need about 23 tabs for a medium sized bracelet.

Now, the go-to-market strategy lesson.

"This is where a lot of products fail," McLarty said.

The key is understanding who would buy the product and why, and how they would hear about it.

"We know most of our customers are male, white," she told the class. "And they drive Ford F1-50s."

The students look stunned - that's pretty detailed information. Even Blunsdon is a bit perplexed, "how do you know that?" The class shares a laugh.

"The more you know about how [customers] spend their days, the more you know their priorities," she said. "If they are driving around in their trucks all day, maybe they are listening to the radio and maybe they are seeing certain signs."

There's a prime marketing lesson from McLarty: advertise your product in ways to get directly to potential clients and customers.

The students get into their groups and brainstorm information about their own potential customers.

Office workers, Owen said, may want the circuit board picture frames his group is working on.

'They have desks to put pictures on," he said.

Another group wants to make picture frames from large, recycled plastic ties. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

People like to show support for various groups by wearing bracelets, Jesinia said. She suggests painting her recycled pop-tab bracelets multi-colour for Pride week or pink for breast cancer awareness, for example.

Nancy suggests young football fans would be interested in her group's mini football game, especially if it's branded with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats logo.

During a lesson on how to price the products, Miranda pipes up again.

"You have to factor in the time spend on it," she said, adding to how much it costs for the materials plus what the market would pay for it.

The students now have a rough plan and need to have a solid prototype and business names before McLarty's next visit.

But they are already thinking about their end goal: to raise money for their Ottawa graduation trip and end-of-year party. But, Blunsdon notes, as the end of the school year draws near, these kids don't have much time.

Next in the Entrepreneurial Adventure: Mr. Blunsdon's students will learn a thing or two (or more) about mass production, supply and demand and market values as they make their products and get ready to sell. CBC Hamilton's Julia Chapman will be there to see it happen. Watch the site for more coverage.