THUNDER BAY, ONT. – More than 140 students in grades 6-12, who entered the annual Enter the Den competition, were narrowed down to 10 winners last week.
The students pitched their business ideas and impressed five Lakehead University judges while competing for first, second and third place cash prizes.
The judges included Sharleen Huotari, of Copperfin Credit Union; Nefry Falla, PARO Center; Derek Lankinen of Beefcake Burger Factory; Pam Tallon, of My Localism; and Lorraine Whitehead of NADF (Fort William First Nation non-profit organization).
Inspired by the popular Canadian TV show Dragon’s Den, Enter the Den is a business plan challenge for students in Thunder Bay. Created by Thunder Bay Ventures, the annual competition has been held since 2010.
In the Grades 7-8 category, Kyleigh Michaud from St. Martin’s School won first place and $1,000 with her idea Beau monde; Emma Reid of Crestview Public School won second place and $500 with Emma’s Farm Fresh Experience, and Owen Lemoine of Elsie MacGill Public School won third place and $250 with his MediaCommercial Zap idea.
Finalists in this category were Wood-sy by Collin Woods from Westmount Public School and Color Your Memories by Miles Kozar from Elsie MacGill Public School.
In the grades 9-12 category, Sarah McChristie of Westgate High School won first place and $1,000 with Cleaning with Meaning; Liam Nicholl of Westgate High School took second place and $500 with Thunder Rolls; and Serena Dick, also of Westgate High School, took third place and $250 with her Summer Splashers idea.
The runner up in this category was Benjamin Wheeler of Westgate High School with Tucker Creek Manufacturing.
First place winner in the 7th-8th grade category, Kyleigh Michaud, is actually a 6th grader at St. Martin’s School and says she wasn’t intimidated to compete with older students. Kyleigh introduced her company Beeautiful World which she started at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had experience,” she says. “I don’t think many other candidates have started their businesses yet.”
The 11-year-old produced beeswax food wraps which she sold on local social media sites. She just started her own online Etsy store and partnered with a Burlington company to produce multiple orders. Kyleigh has plans for the money she earns, including the $1,000 she brought home from competition.
“I will probably buy some new equipment,” she says. “I’m also going to buy some fabric and order more supplies.”
Deborah Poole-Hofmann of Thunder Bay Ventures said this was their first year in the seventh and eighth grade category.
“They totally rocked it. They were fantastic and they amazed a lot of judges, especially the only 6th grader,” she said. “They had such great control over their business ideas and how they wanted it to work. So it was really nice to see.
Poole-Hofmann said the students are passionate about the environment and the community, which she says is nice to see the younger generation taking that into consideration.
“Some were giving back to other nonprofits, some had a real environmental aspect to it, and some emphasized the value of buying local, being local, and supporting local,” she said. .
It’s unclear where the students get their environmental or philanthropic drive, but Poole-Hofmann thinks it could just be the dynamic.
“None of the kids mentioned studying this in school, and I think looking at the world around them, they’re like, ‘You know what, this must be different from when I’m older. It’s my intuition,” she said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Poole-Hofmann noticed a trend where young people’s business ideas involved recycling and reusing things like furniture or pallets. But this year, she says there are more students who have a passion for community and the environment.