On Saturday, April 6, 2019, Junior Achievement of Greater Washington presented the first annual JA Spark Tank Competition, the culminating Shark Tank-style pitch competition and exposition for all JA Company Program® students in the region. The event was hosted at Marymount University – Ballston Center in Arlington, VA.
The five student-run companies competed for the title of Company of the Year and an opportunity to apply for the 2019 National Student Leadership Summit (NSLS), Junior Achievement’s pinnacle event that brings together 15 JA student companies from across the nation to Washington, DC for three days of high-impact JA experiences.
The JA Spark Tank is part of the JA Company Program: a six-month-long entrepreneurship program in which high school students are challenged to work in teams and put their ideas into action by launching and operating a startup under the guidance of business professionals.
Since the start of the program in October 2018, the five teams of students met each other for the first time, united around a business venture, elected leadership, pitched for seed money, created their product, and ran their company – all while balancing their lives as high school students.
Collectively, the five companies sold 762 units, from selling directly to friends and family to participating in a pop-up Trade Show at Tyson’s Corner Center. They experienced the friction of teamwork with strangers, learned to be agile workers and marketers and exceptional communicators. The companies dealt with the unexpected: last-minute supply chain failures, insurance barriers, even a challenge to a trademark application. Their efforts yielded nearly $7,000 in total revenue.
Throughout the JA Spark Tank, student companies were evaluated in 4 unique areas:
1) Their Company Report – which showcases overall business performance, challenges and achievements, and lessons learned;
2) The Interview – during which students reflected on how and why the company performed as it did, and how they can apply their lessons to future challenges;
3) The Expo – evaluated teams’ trade show displays, elevator pitches, verbal and non-verbal communications, product conceptualization, and their financial performance; and
4) The Pitch – Students had 4 minutes to pitch followed by 4 minutes of Q&A. Teams were evaluated on their ability to summarize key experiences, overall content and relevance, delivery techniques, visual aids, and students' ability to think critically when answering questions.
The companies were judged by an impressive group of some of the region’s top business leaders and entrepreneurs:
Company Report Evaluators
Zack Albert, MBA Student, Georgetown University
Chryssa Zizos, Founder and CEO, Live Wire Strategic Communications
Julie Simmons, Managing Director, Human Capital Strategic Consulting
JA Company Program alumna Pam Bentley, Chief Accounting Officer, The Carlyle Group
Mark Rothmam, President & Founder, MYTA Technologies
Nicole Quiroga, President & CEO, Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Susan Lacz, CEO & Principal, Ridgewells Catering
Jack McDougal, President & CEO, Greater Washington Board of Trade
David Samuels, CFO, DrFirst
Sipsy Straws, a business that sells non-toxic, re-usable straws to help eliminate plastic waste while raising awareness about the effects of plastic waste on marine life, received first place and the title of Company of the Year.
ComfortKey, a business that addresses the issue of harassment by selling keychains equipped with an alarm and flashlight that can be used for self-protection, received second place. Third place was awarded to ReLeaf, a company that offers a solution to the excessive use of paper through the production and distribution of Leaflets: laminated pages of cardstock paper that allow you to easily eliminate mistakes without having to throw away paper.
The pitch competition was live-streamed and can be viewed on the JA of Greater Washington Facebook page.
Junior Achievement of Greater Washington wishes Sipsy, ComfortKey and ReLeaf luck as they begin the application process for the 2019 NSLS, which will take place on June 17-20 in Washington, DC.
JA extends its sincere thanks to the many volunteers who made the 2018-19 JA Company Program possible.
Junior Achievement of Greater Washington is a non-profit organization that is changing the game for D.C. Metro area youth with relevant experiential education in financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship. We bring together school systems, business leaders and trained mentor volunteers to provide equal access to the tools, people and experiences all youth need to be 100% prepared for real life in the real world. That means students gain what matters most: control over their own lives, futures and careers.