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Business-savvy middle schoolers brave the shark tank


POTSDAM — Armed only with their business savvy and plenty of colorful craft supplies, fifth-graders on Friday entered the “Shark Tank.”

The competition, inspired by ABC’s “Shark Tank” reality show, saw the students pitching their own business ideas in hopes of winning prizes at A.A. Kingston Middle School. On the show, budding entrepreneurs pitch their products to a group of investors in hopes of gaining financial backing for their ideas.

“You need experience, and you need to be confident,” said fifth-grader Kyton J.E. Deon, who showed up in a tie to help his team pitch its idea.

The four groups pitched custom backpacks, T-shirts with motivational slogans and handmade bracelets, but the “Desk Buddy,” a colorful box used to organize folders and desk supplies, was named best product of the day.

The idea for the competition came from a group of Clarkson business students. Given the task of coming up with their own business plan, the students decided they wanted to help instill a sense of entrepreneurship in young people to keep them from leaving the area when they get older.

“If we can get them excited about being entrepreneurs, they might stay and support the economy,” said Courtney A. Fitzpatrick, a Clarkson freshman and Potsdam native who first came up with the idea.

Once a week for the last eight weeks, Clarkson students visited the middle school classroom and taught the fifth-graders the basics of how to start a successful business.

“You need a problem, and you need to know how to use a product to fix the problem,” said 11-year-old Annabelle C. Short, who helped her team design T-shirts emblazoned with motivational sayings to help curb arguments in gym class.

Dayle M. Smith, dean of the Clarkson University School of Business, Jeff Truskowski, Clarkson graduate and commercial sales manager for Slic Network Solutions, and Clarkson School of Business Associate Professor Michael E. Wasserman played the role of the sharks.

The students did whatever it took to impress the three judges, presenting their products, answering questions and even singing jingles designed to make their ideas stand out.

The “sharks” grilled the young entrepreneurs about how they planned to make and market their products, including a discussion about the economic benefit of using rubber bands instead of string when making bracelets.

“I think it was excellent for the kids to present their creative ideas, and get some idea of what those can lead to,” said their teacher, Todd A. Kaiser.

At the end of the competition, the sharks were most impressed by the handmade desk organizer.

“We were just pretty fed up of having such a messy desk” said Sophie A. Compeau, one of the students on the winning team.

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