BARNSTABLE — Young people can learn a lot at Barnstable High School: how to solve an algebra problem, how to read DNA code and how to make sense out of literary classics. Some students are even learning what it takes to start a business.
In a competition similar to TV’s “Shark Tank” — where entrepreneurs try to convince a panel of tycoons to invest in their idea — students recently pitched their business ideas to a panel of judges.
Emerging from the pack on June 14 were Nicholas Pouliot and Dominic Ford, who won prizes at a New England semi-final competition for young entrepreneurs.
The competition was sponsored by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, or NFTE, a global nonprofit organization that provides entrepreneurship education to middle and high school students.
What were the Barnstable students’ ideas?
Pouliot came up with plans for a biodegradable, reusable marker for teachers to use in classrooms.
The idea for “Pouliot’s Preservation” came to him after noticing how many markers teachers threw away. The marker would have a special cap and back design so the marker could be refurbished, he said.
Pouliot won $1,000 and a chance to compete in a national NFTE competition to be held in New York City in October.
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Ford won $500 for his idea for a mobile grooming business, “Limitless Grooming.”
He came up with the idea when the pandemic hit. With businesses closed and people unable to get so many things done, he thought the Cape would be a perfect market. Many Cape residents are older and retired, so bringing his grooming business to them seemed like a good idea.
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This marks the third year Barnstable High School has participated in NFTE competitions. The school teamed up with NFTE after looking for ways to implement more rigor into its Pathways programs, according to business teacher Justin Ogilvie.
“We’ve been blown away by them (NFTE),” he said.
The school runs a year-long course through NFTE. Sixty students in three sections completed the course this year. Twelve of them moved on to NFTE’s regional quarter-final round. Five students went to the semi-finals. Two, Pouliot and Ford, went to the regional finals in Boston.
“It’s a great piece of the business pathway,” Ogilvie said. “It gives kids an opportunity.”
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And it does so much more, said Monice Maurice, Barnstable’s lead teacher with NFTE.
“The classes are more than just for kids who want to be entrepreneurs,” she said.
It’s about creating a mindset that recognizes opportunity, and is comfortable with risk, she said. She called those characteristics important as the region and country move into an economy that is international.
“They (students) are expected to be intrapreneurs within the companies they work for,” she said. “We want to develop those types of skills that they can transfer in any path.”
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How to teach – and develop – that type of mindset is the magic question, Maurice said. The mindset piece of the curriculum is in every class, she said. With each concept taught, students learn to build a business. They have to decide what kind of business they want – does it deliver goods, or does it deliver services? As they learn the concepts, they apply them to their business ideas.
Some students realize starting their own business isn’t for them.
What’s next for Pouliot, Ford?
Pouliot and Ford made it through a quarter-final competition that had 34 students and a semi-final competition against 16 students. They joined one other student for the national competition. Daisha Jackson, a student from Providence, RI, won first place and $2,500 for “Yoga for All.” She will head to the NFTE national competition in October.
Volunteer judges from across the country reviewed student pitches and watched videos of their presentations, according to Joanne Lessner, managing director for Lambert, the public relations firm representing the NFTE.
The judges included entrepreneurs and business people, including staff members of NFTE sponsor organizations.
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Pouliot plans to do more research and refine his project before the next competition. He’d like to make his presentation better, and if possible, have a prototype ready. A representative from Hasbro spoke with him after his pitch in Boston. He’s made other contacts, Pouliot said. While his warm-up presentation didn’t go smoothly, he felt confident presenting to the judges.
Ford plans to prepare, too, because there is a chance he could enter the national competition if a student finalist drops out. His takeaway from the experience: a lot goes into starting a business.
For Ogilvie, one of the most important lessons is that a 15-year-old doesn’t need to feel it’s impossible to get a business off the ground.
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“Young people are changing the world,” J.D. LaRock, CEO of NFTE, wrote in an email. “Each young entrepreneur’s innovative idea signifies an opportunity to address key challenges facing communities around the globe.”
The NFTE national competition will be held in New York City in mid-October. The day, time and location have not yet been announced.
Contact Denise Coffey at dco[email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @DeniseCoffeyCCT.