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Students prove their business acumen
Ideas pitched during final challenge for entrepreneurial program

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, January 23, 2014

LIIDLII KUE/FORT SIMPSON
If students in a course at Thomas Simpson School stick with the business plans they've developed Fort Simpson will one day have a cafe, a tour company and a world fusion restaurant among other new businesses.

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Charles Blondin pitches his idea for Blondin's Truck Rental during the Wolfpack Challenge based on CBC's Dragons' Den on Jan. 17. The challenge was the final exam for the Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program at Thomas Simpson School in Fort Simpson. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

On Jan. 17, five students faced a panel of five judges as they pitched the business plans they developed this semester for the Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program. The Wolfpack Challenge, now in its second year, is based on the television show Dragons' Den.

The students were grilled by the judges, but no money was at stake. Instead the students had half a credit on the line. The challenge is used by teacher Jim Broomfield in place of a final exam for the course.

The Grade 11 course, which the school began offering last year, challenges students to develop a plan for a business. The workbook for the program walks students through all of the steps.

Sara Amundson, 17, pitched the judges her business plan for the Brew Crew Cafe. The cafe would have a comfortable atmosphere and internet access and sell beverages and light meals along with specialty coffees that aren't available anywhere else in the village.

"A feel a lot of people would enjoy it," she said.

Amundson outlined her target audience, her competitive strategy and her commitment to the community, among other details, to the judges. The Grade 12 student said she took the course to learn more about the business world and other opportunities.

"I like it. It showed me a lot that I didn't know," she said.

Starting a business is difficult, she said. Before the course Amundson said she didn't realize how much money and time it would take. Being the sole owner of a business is a big responsibility, she said.

While Amundson now feels the village is too small of a market for her cafe, Randall Hardisty, 15, plans to actually start The Northern Huntsman, after he graduates from high school and gets some additional training.

The business that Hardisty pitched was an aboriginal tourism venture owned and operated by him that would start with snowmobile tours and then expand to include other traditional aboriginal experiences and modern outdoor activities throughout the year.

"I really like going out on the land," the Grade 10 student said.

Hardisty said he enjoyed developing his business plan during the program. It wasn't easy, however.

"It's really time consuming," he said.

The judges, who included Mike Mageean, Angela Fiebelkorn, Kirby Groat, Sean Whelly and Josh Bellefontaine, said they were impressed by the students' pitches.

All of the businesses that the students presented could have merits in the region, said Mageean, the regional superintendent for the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment.

The quality of the business plans and the presentations improved significantly from last year, he said.

Sean Whelly, the village's mayor and an economic development officer with the Deh Cho Business Development Centre, said he got quite excited about some of the proposed businesses. All of the students could be potential business people in the village, he said.

It was great to see the students include ethical considerations and corporate social responsibilities in their pitches, said Whelly.

The program teaches students about working on their own, said Broomfield. They have to do a lot of thinking and researching about their business plan.One of the reasons for the improved presentations this semester is that each student had a mentor who worked with them for an hour each week.

Last year, students shared mentors.

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