By Kayla Sosa

The Junior Achievement of Michigan Great Lakes is a nonprofit founded in 1919 and is a partnership between business, education and volunteers in a common goal to help young people dream big and reach their potential. Through educational hands-on programs, children learn the key concepts of work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

For high school students, there’s even more opportunity to see their ideas become a reality. The JA Company Program gives high school students the opportunity to manage their own quick-start businesses and can take place in school or after school.

This year, for the first time ever, students participating in the program will culminate with a pitch competition and will present their ideas in teams to a panel of local entrepreneurs and business professionals. Not only will students pitch, but they will also showcase their products with a poster presentation. At the end, there will be three awards to win: JA Company Program of the Year, Best EXPO Display and Best Business Pitch. Each member of the top three teams will take home a $250 scholarship to Grand rapids Community College.

JA Company Program Coordinator Alee’a Ulsh-Cherry said the main goal of the event is to fundraise to keep the program going.

“By showcasing the hard work, talent, and creativity of the students, we hope to gain momentum and lock in sponsors to fund this program so Junior Achievement can continue to encourage Michigan’s future entrepreneurs, business professionals, and beyond,” Ulsh-Cherry said.

Beyond connecting with professionals and gaining public speaking skills, students will be fully immersed into the process of not only starting a business, but maintaining it as well.

“Not only are students starting a business, they are also learning about capital ventures and how to prepare for those opportunities,” Ulsh-Cherry said. “In addition, they are learning how to successfully market and sell their products to their target audience … Overall, students will gain a stronger understanding of business concepts, entrepreneurship, and they will also gain self confidence in their ability to step out of their comfort zone.”

Marco Hernandez, 18, is a senior at Kelloggsville High School. His business idea is selling engraved granite products.

“I would like to be a business owner because I like having the responsibility, and also using the skills that I already have to my advantage,” he said.

This year, Hernandez took a business class as well as a work-study program, where he worked part time for a local business. He’s glad he started learning these skills in high school, as he now plans to attend Grace Christian University to play soccer and study business.

What is the biggest thing he’s learned through the JA Company program?

“There is always someone who is interested in your product,” Hernandez said. “As long as you put in consistent effort you will be able to find success in your sales.”

The pitch event will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 22 at the Grand Valley J.G Russell Leadership Center.

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