Ethan Olson

For 17-year-old Ethan Olson of Fargo, North Dakota, taking part in JA Company program not only taught him important hands-on lessons about building a business, it also earned him a $1,000 scholarship as his state’s Otto Bremer Student Entrepreneur of the Year. Olson, who will be a senior this year at Davies High School in Fargo, served as co-CEO of a company called Socks for Cause. The company sold themed footwear, and then in turn donated their corporate profits to two prominent charities.

“We met about twice a week and our company sold both USA-themed and Christmas-themed socks,” Olson says. “We donated the profits from our USA socks to the Wounded Warrior Project and we donated the money from our Christmas socks to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. We ultimately made about $350 from our Christmas socks and $250 from the USA socks for donation.”

Olson says the JA Company program gave him his first sense of what it feels like to build a business and explore entrepreneurship. “I really enjoyed the feeling and experience of owning a business and trying to work through all of the challenges that come with that,” he says. “I didn’t really know much about starting a business before this. I was a little surprised how easy it was for us to just let our ideas flow as we were getting started.”

Building the business also let Olson discover firsthand that handling setbacks in a constructive fashion is key to success. “It was fun and challenging at times getting people to cooperate, especially when we had down time because our second sock order got back-ordered,” Olson says. “We’d sold our entire first run of Christmas socks at one volleyball game, so we had to quickly try and get another order placed but those didn’t come for a long time. One of the biggest things I learned through this was how to manage employees, and what it takes to keep everyone happy and motivated to make it all work.”

Olson says his experience with JA Company Program was both rewarding and enjoyable. “What I would tell someone about JA is that it’s a great program that offers students and young entrepreneurs terrific possibilities in developing their own ideas, and the ability to take those wherever you want them to go,” he says. “It is a really good experience for everyone involved and everyone learned a lot from it. It was definitely fun!”