Although I don’t always manage to get to all the stages of the competition, I do love to follow the fortunes of Katalyxt’s Youth Innovators, who work hard every year for prizes for the best (and most marketable) product or service. It’s a combination of creativity, new ideas and business acumen that is required. The high school students (from third to sixth forms) work in teams, guided by their teacher; and although the atmosphere is always friendly and inviting, there is some tension in the air among the students. They want to win!
A few weeks ago, I attended the workshop and announcement ceremony for the Youth Innovators’ Competition. Firstly, I should explain that Katalxyt – now six years old – is headed by Winsome Minott and is a division of Mint Management and Finance Services Limited. Ms. Minott is committed to supporting small and medium enterprises and developing entrepreneurship in Jamaica. This year’s competition began last November and ended in April, with the aim of instilling and nurturing that entrepreneurial spirit in our young people. It was sponsored by the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ), EXIM Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia, Tru Juice, Jamaica Producers, Jamaica Association for Micro Financing (JAMFIN) and HEART Trust NTA; and endorsed by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information.
Students from Science, Business, and Home Economics clubs got together with their advisors and organized teams to represent their school. This year’s competition included 100 students from fifteen high schools. Originality in the product or service is key, (schools could submit more than one entry). The submissions were judged on their creativity, presentation, execution, design, marketability and a whole range of factors. The prizes included books, cash and trophies for each award. Apart from the first, second and third prizes, there was a Big Idea award, a Sustainability Award for the most eco-friendly product or service and the Businessman’s Pick.
I met up with the team from Bustamante High School in Clarendon. They had created lamps from recycled materials; and they had created a product called Castoren Oil (with an extraction machine) made from castor oil plants. These plants, team member Trae Brown told me, have taken over some of the old sugar cane fields around Monymusk and are growing wild; good idea to make use of them, I thought.
Afterwards, I sat down with Toby Grant, a design and arts teacher at Yallahs High School in St. Thomas, and an entrepreneur in his own right. At our table were an amusing group of boys from Calabar High School.
The motivational speeches, in between the handing out of prizes, were inspiring. Ms. Minott is tired of the “complainers,” she said. She wants Katalyxt to encourage a more “can do” mindset. She cited the example of our super-athlete Usain Bolt, who basically credits all his success to hard work. Succeeding in business and in life is basically “the same process,” said Ms. Minott. Moderator Cheryll Stewart added an important point: As an entrepreneur, you must “make yourself seen.” Never underestimate the power of networking!
Financier Marcus Richards (currently executive vice chair of Argyle Industries, owners of Hardware and Lumber) emphasised: “I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth.” He worked four jobs while studying at Harvard University, but still struggled financially. “In my second year I went back to University with thirty dollars,” said Richards. and then went on to Wall Street, where he formed an investment club with ten fellow graduates. He went into Mergers and Acquisitions, which was quite a cut throat business (“brutal” was the word Richards used). He still loves to buy and sell companies.
What is the “entrepreneurial spirit”? The difference, simply put, is whose capital you are using. “You must have respect for capital,” added Richards, who declared himself “not anti-employment but pro-entrepreneurship.” He told students they must ask themselves whether their project has relevance for Jamaica. As an entrepreneur, he added, one should always go “above and beyond,” making the best of every opportunity and turning it to your advantage. He cited the street peanut vendor as a classic example of good entrepreneurship – he has it all figured out. “Don’t ever stop moving!” Richards enjoined his youthful audience.
Economist Ralston Hyman also spoke to the students – rather sternly, I thought. “Business is not hustle!” he declared, pointing out that there are no short cuts or quick fixes on the entrepreneurship road. Responsibility, order and discipline are needed in the business world, as elsewhere. He urged the students to develop a “track and field mentality” – discipline, hard work and determination. The gangster mentality, he stressed, simply cannot work. Disrespect, indiscipline, the “get rich quick” mindset, over-consumption… “These things are making us poor,” Hyman asserted. The students looked very serious.
Here are the “Top Ten” schools that made it to the finals on May 11:
- Ardenne High School (Joint winner of Sustainability Award for The Power Cycle)
- Bustamante High School (3rd place winner for Castoren oil)
- Calabar High School
- Edith Dalton James High School (Team Leader’s Award for Peppermint Foot Scrub)
Lennon High School (Winner of Businessman’s Pick Award for Citrus Essential Oil)
- Tarrant High School
- Vere Technical High School (1st place winner for ‘Wireless Charging Illusion Mirror Table’; winner of Big Idea Award for Vere EnerFLO; winner of Top Teacher Award)
- Waterford High School (2nd place winner for “Lip Pop,” Runner Up for Top Teacher Award)
- Yallahs High School (4th place – commendations and Joint winner of Sustainability Award for Road-Eye Safety Unit’)
Congratulations to all the students, the Katalyxt team and all the sponsors.