What’s it like to run a business? Just ask the JA Junior Entrepreneurs at the Y, a summer camp for youths at the Brainerd Family YMCA that launched a sporting goods business.

The Junior Achievement Company Program was modified for the local Y to focus on social entrepreneurship, or raising money for a good cause or nonprofit, according to Brainerd Family YMCA CEO Shane Riffle.

“Basically, we’ve taken our high school JA company program where kids start their own business and modified it down to be more palatable for kids who are ages 9 to 12, and it’s been a huge success,” said Amy Gray, district manager of the Brainerd regional office of Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest.

The JA Company Program has traditionally provided high school students the chance to fill a need or solve a problem in their community by launching their own startup business, “unleashing their entrepreneurial spirit.”

The 25 or so youths in the JA Junior Entrepreneurs at the Y came up with Sports 4 Life, a business that took new or gently used sporting equipment children in the community may have outgrown and resold the items.

“Ultimately, they’ll use the profits to support a new nonprofit in the community called ‘Instant Replay,’ and their goal is to get sporting equipment into the hands of kids who can’t afford it, particularly kids just starting out in the sport,” Riffle said.

Sports 4 Life

The JA Junior Entrepreneurs at the Y celebrated Monday, Aug. 19, the end of the 10-week program with Dairy Queen treats at the Y. After expenses, they will donate $873.53 to new nonprofit Instant Replay, according to Josh Rardin, a RiverWood Bank credit analyst and Y volunteer.

“That’s more than a lot of our high school companies make, so you guys really did a fantastic job,” Gray told the children.

Riffle said the children of the Sports 4 Life business venture operated 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday in front of the YMCA.

“They set up a tent and tables every day, so they had to figure out the logistics of actually taking the donations, storing them and setting up a storefront. They also did a lot of hands-on marketing out on the corners and radio ads and a couple of newspaper ads as well,” Riffle said.

Lauren Castle, 12, of Baxter, Grace Cowell, 12, of Nisswa, and Lauren Hand, 10, of Brainerd, participated in the summer camp. They said the challenges they faced were “getting along with people” and “getting more people to come” visit their business.

“It’s been really fun to see the kids learning and their excitement. … Their enthusiasm has really grown over the past several weeks in this program,” Gray said.

Riffle said, “They got good at talking people, engaging with them.”

Riffle participated in the JA Company Program when he was in high school, so he approved offering two five-week sessions last summer related to Junior Achievement made possible with a $1,000 donation from RiverWood Bank.

“We need entrepreneurs in the future,” said Sheila Haverkamp, executive director of Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp.

High school students in the traditional JA Company Program put theory into practice by creating, marketing and operating their own company, from concept to business plan, financing, execution, and sales, according to the high school-based program’s promotional materials.

BLAEDC business loan

Mike Bjerkness is the BLAEDC workforce director and oversaw a “Shark Tank”-style pitch for a BLAEDC loan by Sports 4 Life.

“They came in with a full business plan of their own ideas that they had worked on … and explained to us what their business was going to be, how they were going to launch it,” Bjerkness said.

Through teamwork, students learn to understand and appreciate the responsibilities each person has in running a business, according to the JA Company Program’s promotional materials.

“They asked for initially $250 to start their business -- they wanted to buy some water bottles with their logo and things like that. Ultimately we upped that to $450, so they could get a few more supplies … to make them presentable,” Bjerkness said of the used sporting equipment.

BLAEDC forgave the interest rate typically charged in loaning money.

“When the original contract was written up, it is written in there with an interest amount in it. It’s truly a loan that comes out of the entrepreneur fund of BLAEDC, so it’s a true contract,” Bjerkness said.

Junior Achievement

During the 2016-17 school year, the most recent year for which data is available, Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest served 6,580 K-12 Brainerd lakes area students in Crow Wing and Cass counties.

“Through the JA program, at the end of the 10-week period, they’re required to close the books on it,” Bjerkness said. “They are going to pay back the loan to BLAEDC that they borrowed ... and then they’re actually donating the money that they made to a nonprofit.”

The Brainerd JA has partnered with almost 200 local volunteers who donated 35,364 hours, according to its website.

“We’re definitely taking notes, and we’ll be reconvening to see what worked and didn’t work, and if this is something that we can replicate at other YMCAs across the country or other youth-serving organizations,” Gray said of the program piloted at the Brainerd Family YMCA.