Young entrepreneurs design products with help from community businesses – Daily Nonpareil

By: Scott Stewart

When 11-year-olds Gracie Schoening and Katelyn Arnold went shopping Tuesday morning at Goodwill, they were trying to find the perfect items to create a new consumer product.The girls were one of five teams creating their own business as part of the Innovation Camp held this week by TS Institute, the nonprofit arm of Treynor State Bank, which held sessions at Wilson Middle School and at several community sites across Council Bluffs.

Photo by: Joe Shearer. From left, incoming Kirn Middle School sixth-graders Madison Bahr, Alanna Huenniger and Tayden Smith work to innovate old items into repurposed products while shopping at Goodwill on Tuesday. The activity was part of the TS Institute's three-day "Innovation Camp," where 30 incoming Wilson and Kirn Middle School sixth-graders visited different businesses and learned about entrepreneurship.

Photo by: Joe Shearer. From left, incoming Kirn Middle School sixth-graders Madison Bahr, Alanna Huenniger and Tayden Smith work to innovate old items into repurposed products while shopping at Goodwill on Tuesday. The activity was part of the TS Institute’s three-day “Innovation Camp,” where 30 incoming Wilson and Kirn Middle School sixth-graders visited different businesses and learned about entrepreneurship.

Gracie and Katelyn’s product, a laundry hamper with built-in basketball hoop, was designed initially to use a purse for the goal, but the team adapted their design to instead use a Goodwill bag. Each team was given up to $30 to buy raw materials, although collectively the frugal students only spent $50.21.

“We’re making a laundry basket,” Gracie said. “When kids are putting their laundry away, they can shoot a hoop to make them want to do it more.”

Kyle Osborne, the camp organizer with TS Institute, said the camp brought students from the initial idea for a business through developing a product and business plan, an abbreviated middle-school program similar to the University of Iowa’s professional entrepreneurial Venture School program.

“These students are going to be creating their own businesses,” Osborne said. “The students are putting together all the pieces of not just a concept but putting together a product.”

Sam Comfort, Goodwill’s work experience trainer, discussed the nonprofit’s mission Tuesday morning, and he told the students about how the stores are selling products now created by repurposing old donations such as T-shirts and stuffed animals.

“We teach high school students the skills necessary to be successful for employment,” he said. “Part of Goodwill’s mission is to reduce, reuse and recycle.”

On Wednesday, students visited Iowa Western Community College to learn about crafting the perfect commercial spot with The River and CBTV17. They also visited Thunderbowl to learn about how to market a product, and Buddy Ray Jones, the operations manager of Joe’s Karting, visited the students Wednesday afternoon to discuss what it takes to run a business.

Jones said he brought racing experience to the business, which offers a unique opportunity in the metro area. In six years, the business has a customer base of more than 100,000. In part, that success was based on adapting offerings based on what racers at Joe’s Karting are interested in doing.

“You need to think about what does your customer base want,” he said. “You always want to look for a need. There always has to be a need that your product has to have.”

In addition to Goodwill, students visited a Scooter’s in Omaha as well as listened to a presentation on branding and creating a slogan from Krispy Kreme. Over the course of the camp, the students work on their creativity, look for business opportunities, understand basic business practices, received direct mentoring and learned how to make a product and an accompanying business plan.

“You have to stay laser-focused,” Osborne told one of the groups, as students were weaving through Goodwill among the store’s regular shoppers. “What problem are you going to solve?”

The camp wraps up today with a visit from TS Bank and Edward Jones in the morning, as the students prepare to pitch their finished products to investors in a miniature “Shark Tank” scenario at Wilson.

For incoming Kirn Middle School student Alanna Huenniger and her team, that pitch will include a commercial shot in the school’s lobby on Wednesday afternoon.

Their product, called Jungle Adventure, used a stool, on sale for half-off at Goodwill, with a vase and smaller cups for additional flowers or tea candles.

“It is suppose to be a flower stool,” Alanna said. “You can put flowers in the cup.”

The group’s sketch portrayed a mother waking up to being given flowers on Mother’s Day but lamenting where she would put them. Her daughters go back to the drawing board to make their surprise even better while they prepare supper: the flower stool.

“Jungle Adventure is a new product – try it today,” the team members said at the end of their pitch as part of a sing-song jingle. “Jungle Adventure is the best product for you. Call 1-800-ZEBRA.”

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