story and photos by Josh Taylor Souza
Special to The City Wire
FAYETTEVILLE — It may have looked like the Northwest Arkansas Mall "Food Court" to everyone else, but to a large group of area junior high students, it played out like a Wall Street boardroom.
Eight local schools took part in the annual World Trade Expo for middle school students held Friday afternoon (Nov. 9). This marked 21 years for the enterprising competition which added a new feature to this year’s agenda.
For the first time, the participants had the opportunity to deliver a 2-5 minute "elevator pitch" in front of a live audience and a panel of judges, with the top three teams receiving prize money.
"This program has been around for a long time and this year we are excited to have the kids give their presentations because it is a big part of the business world and it will be a good public speaking exercise for those who want to take part in it," said Clayton Anderson, John Brown University graduate and member of JBU Enactus. "This is always a fun event for (JBU) every year. The kids are great and they are generally interested in learning all that they can from the program."
Of the eight schools involved, the participants ranged in age from sixth- to eighth-grade. All of the teams were asked to come up with a business model and then market and sell their items from respective booths that were stationed in the Dillard's wing of the NWA Mall on Friday.
The booths were lively, colorful and for the most part very creative. And some of the students went home with a decent day’s wage.
"We have cleared about $150 so far today. This has been a lot of fun to work on with my friends and we are going to have more fun after we split up the money" said Coleman Warren. CEO of Block Heads – the business venture that he and his fellow seventh-grade team from Randall G. Lynch Middle School in Farmington put together for the competition.
The JBU Enactus (formerly Students in Free Enterprise or SIFE) help run the expo each year, with more than 100 students taking part this time around. Sponsoring middle school teachers deliver an entrepreneurship curriculum and students organize into teams to come up with their business idea.
Those business plans are evaluated by the JBU Enactus group and then 30 teams get an invitation to take part in the expo day, where they set up a booth and try and sell their products.
The businesses on display Friday ranged from handmade jewelry to fake mustaches. Some of the more creative items at this years' expo included the Duct-Tape Dynasty (D.T.D) team out of Siloam Springs, who specialized in wallets and bracelets made entirely from duct tape.
"We do feel like most problems can be solved with duck tape," said Chad Hall of D.T.D. "It took about 10 strips of tape to make each wallet. … I didn't mind having to spend time making a bunch of wallets and bracelets because I like to play with duck-tape anyway."
While some teams displayed creativity, others leaned on practicality for their venture, such as the "Coaster Guys" from Hellstern Middle School in Springdale, who turned ceramic tiles into personalized coasters.
Other teams like Magna-Pet, also from Hellstern Middle School, went after a whimsical and fun theme with their furry friends product line fashioned from Styrofoam balls, magnets, felt and googly eyes.
Savannah Poulous, Rachel Peters and Ava Hatch on the Magna-Pet team said they had pocketed about $55 in the first few hours, but were definitely nervous about delivering the pitch. However, they managed to finish in the top three, picking up a cash award.
In addition to the cash prize winners in the elevator pitch contest, awards were given for best business plan, best booth display and best environmentally sustainable business.
"The program focuses on the middle school age because it’s a critical time for these students," said Rachel Fiet, assistant director of university communications at JBU. "This is the time in their lives when the right push can go a long way. This is the age when they are starting to try and figure out what kind of educational path they want to take.
Fiet said the program does a great job of helping these students understand at least the basics of entrepreneurship.
The middle schools taking part in this year’s expo included:
Gentry Middle School
Helen Tyson Middle School in Springdale
Hellstern Middle School in Springdale
J.O. Kelly Middle School in Springdale
Lincoln Middle School
Randall G. Lynch Middle School in Farmington
Siloam Springs Middle School
West Fork Middle School
Kraft Foods' Best Business Plan:
1. Bowtique – Hellstern Middle School
2. Marbleous Magnets – Helen Tyson Middle School
3. T-Shirts to Treasures – Lincoln Middle School
McKee Foods' Most Environmentally Friendly Product Award:
1. Fashion Earth – J.O. Kelly Middle School
2. T-Shirt Twist – West Fork Middle School
3. Recykabows – Hellstern Middle School
Parachuting Penguins' Best Booth:
1. De Soare – Randall G. Lynch Middle School
2. Magna Pets – Hellstern Middle School
3. Coaster Guys – Hellstern Middle School
Elevator Pitch Award, sponsored by Innovate Arkansas and 101 Ventures:
1. T-Shirt Twist – West Fork Middle School
2. Marbleous Magnets – Helen Tyson Middle School