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Racist comments couldn’t stop student-led business from succeeding

Students in Vanier Collegiate's Entrepreneurship 30 class gave presentations on Jan. 19 about how well their businesses functioned.

A group of business students from Vanier Collegiate experienced some unexpected racism during their semester-long project but overcame the difficulty and eventually sold nearly three times as much product as planned. 

Soup company Mix Inc. — “Everything but the kitchen sink” — was one of two student-run businesses during this year’s Entrepreneurship 30 class. The groups held their board of directors’ meetings on Jan. 19 and summarized how their Junior Achievement projects went.

Clothing-focused Prairie Sky — “The sky has no limits” — was the other company.

Slurp, slurp

Mix Inc. planned to sell 120 jars of soup — chicken noodle and vegetable — but surpassed expectations by hawking 324 jars, the students said. The company made $2,349.92 in net income, and after donating 20 per cent — $469.98 — to Hunger in Moose Jaw, it was left with $1,824.

The nine students split that profit and took home $202.66 each.

“Our business had its low points, but it also had its triumphs. Without the hard work of our group, we would not be where we are today,” said president Stephen Walcer.

The business needed to create a healthy soup alternative because other products have high sodium, said Emily Causevic-Horning, vice-president, marketing and sales. Furthermore, it was critical that the soup be quick-cooking and could be made by someone with little cooking experience. 

“Our company members and customers expect us to put our heart and soul into our soups,” she continued. “We want to show that meaningful gifts don’t have to be expensive and don’t have to take a lot of time.”

The business had many repeat buyers while a teacher cooked the soup at lunch to promote the product, Causevic-Horning said.  

Causevic-Horning sought permission from the Co-op to sell there, but the front area was booked at Christmas, she added. However, since she works there, management let her discuss the products at the till.   

Meanwhile, the students capitalized on some teachers being sick by convincing a few to buy chicken noodle soup.  

Racist comments

Business owners will likely face problems while operating a company, so it’s important to be ready, said Russel Parreno, head of production. Sometimes incidents are beyond anyone’s control, such as racist attacks, which was the only major incident the company faced.

The students — a culturally diverse group — sold their wares during a December trade show and received racist comments from an adjacent table, he continued. They reported this to teacher-advisor Christa Lapointe while they stood together for the well-being of their company.

“I would label this as our greatest success because we grew together as a group and learned what it means to run a business in the real world … ,” Parreno added. “Our small group was tough … .”

Lapointe said this was the first time any student-run business had received such negative comments. She appreciated learning about the incident because she plans to include class training on preparing for racist attacks. 

“For me as a teacher, it was a big learning experience. They handled it wonderfully and they did great,” she added. 

National attention

Katherine Gagne with the Junior Achievement program attended the meeting as an evaluator. She said the program’s head office in Toronto sent her a news article about the class’s projects, so she commended them for acquiring national attention.

“Vanier really stepped up … ,” she added. “You guys really knocked it out of the park.” 

Lapointe noted that former Vanier graduate John Pantazopoulos — who operates Lucky Strike Energy Services in Alberta — also heard about the students’ projects and asked to present to them.

Project highlights

Some activities students enjoyed were:

  • Attending trade shows and networking
  • Selling numerous jars
  • Meeting MP Andrew Sheer
  • Donating to Hunger in Moose Jaw
  • Acquiring advice from Saskatchewan Polytechnic and the University of Regina

Many were also proud of their teamwork, learning how to communicate with others, becoming close-knit friends and building self-confidence. 

Meanwhile, they faced two challenges: ensuring receipts were legible and having a schedule that enabled them to complete all desired tasks. 

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