Ian Lim

For 16-year-old Ian Lim of Maple Grove Senior High School, excelling in Junior Achievement simply took the same kind of focused dedication he brings to basketball practice, where he spends up to four hours a day lifting weights, mentoring kids in a local basketball camp and working hard to improve his game.

Lim applied that same diligence to forming his Junior Achievement company, Crimson Café, dedicating long hours to the business. As a result, he was named 2017 Minnesota Otto Bremer Student Entrepreneur of the Year and his team also took first-place in the Minnesota JAUM Company of the Year Competition. Lim received a $1,000 post-secondary scholarship as part of the winning team, and also received a second individual $1,000 scholarship from the Otto Bremer Entrepreneurship Fund.

Lim and his teammates created Crimson Café to sell coffee drinks to students at the high school, using a concession stand that was usually operated only during sports events. “We started having meetings to come up with an idea for the company, and we settled on coffee,” says Lim, who will be a junior this fall. “We did some beta testing, surveys and market research and we thought this was the most viable idea. It took a while to go from an idea to an actual business, but I finally took the initiative and just started it.”

To get started, aside from the traditional issues any startup company faces, Crimson Café also had to get approval from a wide variety of sources, including the school’s superintendent, principal, business manager, cafeteria staff and even the local health inspector. “We started the business the day after our winter break ended,” Lim says. “We had a team of about 20 or 25 kids, and we created a work schedule and used a digital app called Slack to communicate between the different channels. Organization was really one of the biggest things for our group. We got to school at 6:15 in order to start selling at 7 o’clock, and we sold about 20 or 30 cups a day. The main reason our numbers weren’t higher is that we couldn’t sell dairy products, so no lattes or things like that. It was something in the rules because of potential health concerns. We also didn’t sell tea, which I found out later that people really would have liked.”

Lim said the group plans to continue the business during the coming school year, perhaps expanding it to include both dairy and tea to meet customer demand.

While Lim embraced his experience building the company, he also faced personal challenges during the past year, when his mother, who had been a business analyst at General Mills, had a serious stroke, the second within two years. She is presently in a nursing home working toward rehabilitation, and he hopes she’ll be able to return home within six months. “It’s been hard on the whole family, but that’s one place where JA really came in for me,” says Lim about dealing with his mom’s medical crisis. “Both my dad, who’s a civil engineer, and my mom have always really wanted me to succeed academically, and they saw I was passionate about JA so they really encouraged it. [Building the company] became a place where I was able to get my head away from everything else, so that was great for me. It’s been tough but we’re getting through it.”

As for his future, Lim says he’s been bitten by the entrepreneurship bug. He recently started his own company, Stronger Self, selling essential oil blends, diffusers and accessories. “Coming into this year, I was passionate about finance and the whole realm of stocks and bonds,” Lim says. “I was thinking I’d maybe become a mutual fund manager or an investment banker someday, but as this year went on, I became more and more interested in entrepreneurship. There’s a saying that you should have fun going to work, and with JA, I looked forward to this every single day. I got to work really hard on a project that I could see blossom, and I actually hope to do [the JA Company Program] as a junior and senior because it was really what got me into entrepreneurship in the first place.”