Reflections from Junior Achievement Competition Finalists

Fifteen JA Company teams from the more than 100 Junior Achievement Areas across the nation were selected to compete in the 2022 Junior Achievement National Student Leadership Summit (NSLS), a contest of business skills, ingenuity, and innovation.  Currently reaching more than 10,000 U.S. students who created over 500 startup ventures, JA Company Program students start and run a real business enterprise under the guidance of a volunteer from the local business community. They devise and market a product or service that fills an unmet consumer need and recruit investors for their company.

For only the second time in the history of the NSLS, three teams were selected from one service area and that area was Junior Achievement of North Central Ohio! Fourteen students from our region traveled to Capitol Hill in June 2022 to compete in the Entrepreneurship Expo, which was attended by members of congress and congressional staff.  The student companies were assessed on their financial performance, individual team members’ personal and professional development, a self-produced commercial about their product or service, their team’s live presentation to a panel of business leaders, and on their company’s performance at the Entrepreneurship Expo. Ultimately, one of the three JANCO teams was awarded first place in the JA Company of the Year category.

We invite you to read excerpts of the reflections submitted by local student finalists who attended the Summit, which are a testament to the outstanding impact of Junior Achievement programming.

It was a great experience to meet other students from all over the country and further grow my network. I could expand on my entrepreneurial ideas and learn from others’ advice and stories. The tradeshow booth was exciting as we shared our product with judges, the public, and other teams at the Russel Senate Office. Waiting until our turn to pitch was nerve-wracking, but we felt confident as soon as it was over. I was glad we got to watch all of the other fantastic presentations as well. Interviews with judges allowed our team to form better connections and share our company’s story.  Overall, my experience at NSLS and with the Junior Achievement Program this past year has provided me with many valuable skills and life lessons I will carry with me in my future.

Starting our business as 17-18-year-old seniors in high school was an opportunity I never thought I would have but will be forever grateful for. Junior Achievement provides unique opportunities for young entrepreneurs like myself to look into the competitive business industry. It had always been a goal of mine to start a business at some point in my life. The business my teammates and I started will act as an exceptionally well-developed precursor for my future business endeavors, making them much easier and more successful. I have Junior Achievement to thank for quite a few reasons. First is the option to start a business in the first place. As I mentioned, this business will not be a tiny blip in my life but an event I will learn and grow from for years to come. Second is the opportunity to speak on WKYC about Junior Achievement and the upcoming Washington DC trip for the Junior Achievement National Student Leadership Summit (NSLS). A JA classmate and I had the option to brag about our businesses and Junior Achievement, and neither of us could pass that up. Third, I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity to go to Washington DC to compete in the JA NSLS. My teammates and I met many talented young entrepreneurs and learned about their brilliant businesses. The people we met, the things we saw, and the opportunities Junior Achievement students are provided remain unreplicated by any other program I’ve participated in. I know my teammates and I will cherish our senior year of high school for the rest of our lives, and we have Junior Achievement to thank for that.

The Junior Achievement Company Program added so much value to my senior year of high school. The way JA of North Central Ohio structures the program made forming and running our company much more straightforward and added much more value to the experience. At the beginning of the year, when we created the company and delegated roles, JANCO held an event at Kent State that allowed us to see what was expected of us by the end of the year. Then they had break-out sessions that helped teach students how to perform their roles. Then throughout the year, JANCO went above and beyond, providing opportunities for all companies to sell their products at events from the Football Hall of Fame to the Hartville Flea Market. By the end of the year, I had gained more practical experience in entrepreneurship than any other class or program could've offered. Not only did JANCO add value to my senior year with the company program, but they also allowed me to learn about crypto and other things that interested me by allowing me to participate in the Money Without Borders Virtual Summit hosted by CNBC, Acorns, and JA of USA. Then there was the fantastic opportunity to travel to DC to compete in the National Student Leadership Summit and network with people across the country. Junior Achievement gave me opportunities and experiences I'm very grateful for and wouldn't have been able to have without them.

While in DC, I not only enjoyed a lot of new experiences but also became a more confident public speaker and learned skills that will last a lifetime. I am incredibly thankful for this experience and the friendships I have formed.

Being selected to attend the National Student Leadership Summit in Washington D.C. was a fantastic experience and provided me with many insights into entrepreneurship. My favorite part of the experience was meeting new people from across the country and hearing about how they structured, marketed, and sold their products. I met a team from Missouri called Gateway Clothing Co. and formed a solid connection with their team members; what struck me as the most fascinating about their company is that they had no upper management. They relied on project managers to drive and lead their group members towards varying goals. They chose this structure because the year before when they started the company, they found that the upper management was doing the most work while other people were sitting idle. Instead of letting that be the status quo, they sought to alleviate the problem. This was such a creative and outside-the-box approach, and I deeply admired them for going against the standard organization structure and trying something new. To me, this embodied the spirit of Junior Achievement - identify a problem and create a solution. Moving forward, I will always remember and hold the memories I made at the summit near my heart. I made so many amazing new friends and got to experience the thrill of this competition with them. As I write this, I am filled with sorrow over my Junior Achievement experience being over, it was the most fun I had ever had within a class, and it truly challenged my problem-solving skills. I hope every student gets the opportunity to create and form a company as we did; there is no other experience like it.

My experience at Junior Achievement’s National Student Leadership Summit was one of the most unique, most fulfilling experiences of my life. Being selected as a finalist after all the hard work we put in over the course of this school year made all the challenges we faced worth it. During my time at NSLS, I not only got to meet other outstanding young entrepreneurs, but I had the opportunity to listen in on insightful seminars presented by FedEx and Delta Airlines. We learned, laughed, and most importantly, got a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will undoubtedly help us succeed in whatever adventure comes next. Being a part of Brain Wave and winning Company of the Year is one of the proudest moments I have ever been a part of. Over the course of the year, Brain Wave not only made a difference in the community, but it made the most significant impact on us as students.

This week was one of the greatest of my life as I formed connections with incredible and truly remarkable people. I got to compete against the best companies across the country and grow my skills in public speaking, organization, communication, and overall confidence. When it was time for the awards, I was nervous about whatever was to come, but when it came time to announce the reason we were all there, the National Company of the Year, my heart was in my stomach. When they said our name, I was in disbelief. As a wave of emotions overcame me, the tremendous success was knowing students would be able to do things like this every year with Junior Achievement and their incredible sponsors.

The NSLS was an experience that I never expected and an experience that I will never forget. I learned communication and networking skills through seminars and group gatherings and how to make new connections with people I have never talked to from across the country. I made some connections here that I will be able to carry on in the future and some bonds with people I would have never even gotten close to without this event and the funding. A great takeaway from this is to stay persistent; our team did not place in any competition this whole year, but we never gave up and ended up being the JA Company of the year. That is what entrepreneurship is; it is the constant failure until you finally succeed which happened to us. I learned that not everything is about winning at these events, but how you respond to the win or what happens next is what it is all about.

Learn more about the fifteen finalist teams.