THUNDER BAY, ONT. — More than 140 students in grades six to 12, who were competing in the annual Enter the Den competition, were narrowed down to 10 winners last week.
The students presented their business ideas and impressed five judges at Lakehead University while vying for first, second and third place cash prizes.
The judges included Sharleen Huotari, of Copperfin Credit Union; Nefry Falla, of PARO Centre; Derek Lankinen, of Beefcake Burger Factory; Pam Tallon, of My Localism; and Lorraine Whitehead of NADF, (non-profit organization at Fort William First Nation).
Inspired by the popular Canadian TV show, Dragon’s Den, Enter the Den is a business plan challenge geared to Thunder Bay students. Created by Thunder Bay Ventures, the annual competition has been taking place since 2010.
In the grades 7-8 category, Kyleigh Michaud of St. Martin School, took first place and $1,000 with her Beeautiful World idea; Emma Reid of Crestview Public School, took home second place and $500 with Emma’s Farm Fresh Experience, and Owen Lemoine of Elsie MacGill Public School took third place and $250 with his MediaCommercial Zap idea.
Runners up in this category were Wood-sy by Collin Woods of Westmount Public School, and Colour Your Memories by Miles Kozar of Elsie MacGill Public School.
In the grades 9-12 category, Sarah McChristie of Westgate High School took 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 from 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 grade 7-8 category, Kyleigh Michaud, is actually a grade 6 student at St. Martin School and says she wasn’t intimidated to compete with older students. Kyleigh presented her Beeautiful World business that she had established during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had experience,” she said. “I don’t think many other of the contestants had their businesses started yet.”
The 11-year-old has been producing beeswax food wraps that she was selling on local social media marketplace sites. She has just established her own Etsy shop online and linked with a company in Burlington to produce multiple orders. Kyleigh has plans for the money she is earning, including the $1,000 she took home from the competition.
“I’m probably going to get some new equipment,” she said. “I’m also going to get some fabric and order more supplies.”
Deborah Poole-Hofmann, with Thunder Bay Ventures, said this was their first year with the grade seven and eight category.
“They totally rocked it. They were fantastic and they amazed a lot of the judges, especially the one student in Grade 6,” she said. “They had such a great command of their business ideas and how they wanted to make it work. So that was really nice to see.”
Poole-Hofmann said that the students were passionate about the environment and community, which she says is nice to see that the younger generation is taking that into consideration.
“Some were giving back to other non-profits, some had a real environmental aspect about it and some stressed the point of shopping local, being local and supporting local,” she said.
It is uncertain where the students receive their environmental or philanthropic motivation, but Poole-Hofmann thinks it could just be the dynamics.
“None of the kids mentioned they’ve studied this in school, and I think that just seeing the world around them, they are saying, ‘You know what, this needs to be different from when I’m older.’ That’s my gut feeling,” she said.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Poole-Hofmann noticed a bit of a trend where the youth business ideas involved recycling and repurposing of things like furniture or pallets. But this year, she says there’s more students who have a passion for the community and the environment.