Teaching Junior Achievers to become entrepreneurs

The March 21 board meeting for Travelin’ Style — a fledgling company with sights on creating convenient travel packs containing daily essentials for business travelers — began as any other board meeting would.

President Ben Collins addressed board members, recapping the progress of the group and what he hoped the focus of the mid-afternoon meeting would be. And, as at any other board meeting, each of the officers gave a brief synopsis of progress made since their last meeting.

But unlike almost any other board meeting, that of Travelin’ Style was held among a board composed of high school students. And, unlike other boards, the goal of the group was to conceive and structure a new company, develop a product, raise capital, market it, sell it, report profit and liquidate the company, all within 15 weeks.

This whirlwind lesson in free enterprise is part of an after-school initiative that uses the well-known Junior Achievement curriculum to introduce high school students to the business world outside of the classroom and after school hours.

Junior Achievement New Hampshire was selected by JA Worldwide as a primary pilot site to test the after-school program, according to David Henderson, executive director of JA New Hampshire.

He said the program “allows the kids to start their own business, learning hands-on, getting directly involved and working with mentors from the business community.”

In the JA after-school program, the boardrooms of participating local companies become the classrooms for the students, and local business leaders become their teachers.

The board of Travelin’ Style and its partnership with Bank of New Hampshire is one of six JA Company After-School Programs currently up and running in New Hampshire.

The team of 13 area high school students meets weekly at the main office of Bank of New Hampshire on Franklin Street in Manchester. Volunteers Mike Day, Celeste Donovan, Sonia Ascher and Dave Janelle share their expertise and offer guidance to the young entrepreneurs during the two-hour meetings, which began in February. Bank employees Cathy Pouliot and Beth Sabol also help with the partnership.

The after-school initiative was held in December and has grown to include not only Bank of New Hampshire but The Timberland Company in Stratham, Southern New Hampshire University, Manchester Housing Authority and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

An additional site at Hypertherm is located south of Hanover and partners with the Rivendell school district on the New Hampshire-Vermont border.

“This is a good way to give back to our community and help our young business leaders get started,” said Mike Day, senior support specialist for Banknorth, parent company of Bank of New Hampshire.

Start-up process

Chosen to lead the board of Travelin’ Style, Goffstown High School junior Ben Collins may just be one of those future business leaders.

“I am very interested in the world of business and finance. I thought this would be a good way to see how a business is organized,” said the 17-year-old Collins.

Brittany Whiteman, a West High School sophomore from Hooksett and the group’s vice president of marketing, said she’s taking the opportunity to catch a glimpse of what she hopes to be doing 10 years from now.

“I want to go into merchandising, and this is a great way to get ahead of myself and really prepare for the real world and for when my time comes,” said Whiteman, 15.

By the March 21 meeting, Collins, Whiteman and the 11 other board members of Travelin’ Style had experienced first-hand the start-up process of a new business. That included the structuring of the board of directors, deciding on a name, product and logo, raising capital with an initial stock offering and researching their market.

The team hopes to sell clutch-sized travel packs that will include essential toiletries, a lint brush and coupons, among other items. In addition to local hotels and bus stations, the team is hopeful Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club will allow them to sell the travel packs there. The exact retail price for the convenient pack is expected to be somewhere between $10 and $15.

The advice and guidance from the four business mentors from Bank of New Hampshire is meant to keep the students on track and moving forward during the 15-week program. But the decisions made by the Travelin’ Style board will ultimately determine the final outcome.

On May 12, Travelin’ Style is to be liquidated. All involved expect the company to turn a profit on the sale of the travel packs. All agree, however, that the real profit from this particular after-school program is the experience and insight gained by the high school students involved.

“We have a nice start here. We would really like to see programs like these in every major town and city in the state,” Henderson said. “We would like to see every major business in New Hampshire offer not just to open the doors of their companies to our students, but instead open the doors to their boardrooms.”

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