04 May 2010
As they try to kick start one-person companies, a small group of student-entrepreneurs got a behind-the-scenes look at how the world's largest retailer does business.
A dozen students from Miami's Jackson Senior High School toured the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Hialeah Gardens Tuesday, getting business tips from the store's high-level managers.
Each student had created a business plan as part of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship's Business Challenge this year, and the Wal-Mart tour was designed to show the students the potential outcome of a successful start-up, said store manager Raul Cortina.
"The first advice I'd give is you got to believe in your own product," Cortina told the group as he led the tour. "The item has to have something special, it has to be something new."
As the students snaked through each section of the sales floor, Cortina pointed out innovative products and dished out tips on best practices for developing their businesses.
After touring the sales floor, the students gathered in one of the back offices to hear a group of managers give short presentations about their role in making the store operate smoothly.
The aspiring entrepreneurs peppered the managers with questions, seeking advice on how best to market their business ideas and pitch their products to major retailers.
The students' business plans included a custom lawn chair with a built-in cooler, a health-conscious soda, a mobile electronics repair service, a film-centric dance studio and custom-designed clothing.
As part of the NFTE program, each student had to prepare a business plan, create a marketing strategy, deliver an "elevator pitch" and answer questions from business executives. The program -- which is active in more than 20 South Florida schools -- hosts competitions at the school, regional and national levels. The national winner receives a $10,000 grant to finance his or her start-up.
Dawn Jones, who teaches an information technology class at Jackson High and leads the school's NFTE program, said the program gave her students a chance to be innovative in the classroom.
"It really gives the kids an opportunity to use their creative side," she said. "It gives them an outlet to showcase their creativity and show who they are through their product."
BriAna Hartfield, a sophomore at Jackson, took her business -- a social networking site for talent agents and actors -- to the regional semifinals after winning her school's competition. Although she was not one of the six South Florida students chosen to advance to the regional finals, she said she planned to continue developing her business, and hopefully build a niche for herself in the talent agent industry.
"I would not have known anything about the business side before I did the NFTE program," said Hartfield, an aspiring actress herself. "Now I have a business plan, and learning about the finances has been amazing."
Each of the students received a $50 Wal-Mart gift card as a form of startup capital for their businesses. Most planned to use the money for marketing and branding materials.
Chris Brignolle, program director for NFTE in South Florida, said the lessons the students were learning -- teamwork, money management and presentation skills -- would be useful both in and outside of the world of entrepreneurship.
"At the end of the day, it's not just about starting a business," he said. "It's about bringing a quality out of a student who's about to graduate and go out into the real world."
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