The Junior Achievement (JA) organization wants to help young minds get down to business.
According to the Junior Achievement of Delaware Valley website, Junior Achievement is the world’s largest organization dedicated to educating students about workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.
“We are preparing students to own their economic future in our ever-changing global economy,” Paul Kappel, JA of Delaware Valley president, said.
The JA of Delaware Valley, which is based in Wayne, was founded in 1951. According to Kappel, 15,000 students in Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties participate in a JA of Delaware Valley program each year.
The programs are available in both an in-school or after-school format, and are geared toward students’ specific grade levels, from kindergarten through 12th grade.
According to the JA of Delaware Valley website, the uniqueness of JA programs is highlighted by a partnership between schools and community volunteers, particularly volunteers from local businesses and corporations.
One such program is the JA Company Program, which provides a local business to coach students in the creation of their own company, sell a product of their own design, and ultimately make a profit.
In addition to maintaining their regular academic rigors, students attend regular meetings after school with their business coaches. Following the JA business creation templates, students have a few months to work together and cultivate a sense of business acumen and entrepreneurship.
“This program is clearly our most intensive,” Kappel said, adding that the spirit of entrepreneurship instilled through the program provides life-long skills in the students. “We are providing a skill set to whatever their goals may be. If you really think about it, the success of what they do is through their sense of entrepreneurship.”
Kappel said that several local businesses have signed up to be business coaches for the JA program, including Aqua PA and Vangaurd.
Last school year, staff from Lockheed Martin coached approximately 20 students in the program, some of who hailed from school districts in Perkiomen Valley, Coatesville, Great Valley and Methacton.
“This program has been a wonderful opportunity fo students to learn hands0on how a business operates,” Gerry Fasano, president of Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions-Defense, said in a .
“They were great, they helped us just enough,” Wesley Kearney, a Methacton High School student, said.
Kearney, a senior this year, said that his business teacher informed him of the JA program. Kearney explained that his desire to participate in the program was to see business more in depth.
Starting in November last school year, Kearney joined fellow Methacton High School students to work with students from other school districts in weekly meetings at Lockheed Martin, which has a location in King of Prussia.
One of the first orders of business, Kearney said, was to better know his peers who lived townships or counties away.
“There were some weeks where it was difficult,” Kearney said. “But, I’ve always worked well with others.”
By January, Kearny said that he and his fellow students pulled together to create a company with a board of directors, vice-presidents of various departments and assign positions to employees.
Kearny was assigned a position with the company’s financial department; however, he was also able to help out with the marketing department, as marketing is his primary interest.
The students came up with the product and company name called “USB-Me,” which is a wristband with USB drives attached.
Ordering the product was another lesson in business best practices. According to Kearney, USB-Me sought a Chinese manufacturer, as it would be cheaper to purchase the product in bulk overseas.
This strategy, however, came with a slight drawback, as the timing of the order coincided with the Lunar New Year celebrations, which delayed shipment for several weeks.
However, USB-Me was successful in marketing the item, wracking up over 250 pre-sales. In total, USB-Me was able to sell over 360 of its product.
According to Kearney, USB-Me even donated at least 10-percent of its profits to the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support at St. Joseph’s University. He said the Kinney center was chosen over other suggested organizations, as a Methacton High School student recently completed his senior project at the center.
“And, we wanted to raise as much money as we could make,” Kearney said.
Competition in the Business World
Another aspect of the JA Company program are its regional and national levels of competition.
USB-Me was able to proceed to the national competition, which took place in Washington, D.C. from July 30 – Aug. 3. The team was represented by five Methacton High School students, who also made up a majority of students at USB-Me.
According to Gerri Vattimo, JA of Delaware Valley Company program manager, only 15 JA student company teams from across the country were able to attend the national competition.
“It was very energizing for them,” Vattimo said. “They were quite professionally prepared, and demonstrated a strong business acumen to run their company.”
She said that the competition mostly took place at George Washington University, but the students also got to visit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the House of Representatives.
She described the national competition to a trade fair event, where students manned display booths and spoke about their products to open and secret judges, as well as the general public.
“We had to give it 110-percent, because we never knew who was a judge,” Kearney recalled, later adding, “Public speaking got easier throughout the day.”
While Kearney said that USB-Me received several distinctions at the national competition, the 2012 JA Company program Company of the Year went to a Los-Angelos team called "Eagle Eye" for their company that sold marketing videos of student athletes to grab the attention of scouts or potential colleges.
Despite the loss, Kearney said that he looks forward to participating in the JA program again this school year, and hopes to meet even more business-minded local and national students.
“The best part of the trip was talking to other people from other states,” Kearney said, adding that he has kept in touch with the JA students he met in D.C. “Networking will help with job hunting.”
The JA of Delaware Valley is currently looking for both student and local business participants in its various programs. For more information, visit www.philadelphia.ja.org or contact Juliana Stiles at 610-499-1620 or at Juliana.firstname.lastname@example.org.