Observers who predict trends for a specific population set (think “baby boomers” or “Generation X”) speculate that today’s 18- to 29-year-old millennials may be the most socially minded generation in years, determined to use their talents to make the world a better place. Jonathan Wang, 18, a recent graduate of Mounds View High School in Arden Hills, seems to be a real-life example of that prediction.
Jon, who will attend Stanford University this fall, says, “If you’re going to spend your entire life doing something, doing something that has a greater purpose is something I’d like on my plate.” Jon says JA has played a large role in helping focus his interests on entrepreneurship and business. His first introduction to JA came as a ninth-grader, when he discovered JA Titan, a computer-simulation business game.
“In my Economics class, there were all these people playing JA Titan,” Jon says. “It was just like a game, where you get to try all this cool stuff, but later on, you start to get into the economics behind all of it. It’s kind of like a detective story; you may only know your competitor’s price, their retained earnings, their net profit and their total sales. But from those four things, you can actually find so much other information.”
Jon said his good experience with JA Titan led him to look for additional JA activities, and he became involved with the JA Company Program, where students sell products and run their own business. “We actually didn’t do so well at the beginning,” Jon says. “Our idea was to use this 3-D printer that we built from a kit to create 3-D things, like hearts for Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately it took way too long to print things, and it was a waste of time and money. So we pivoted a little and moved on to injection molding, where you basically just melt plastic into a mold. But the molds took too long to make; the injection molding didn’t work very well, and the material we made things out of was really bad. So we brainstormed for a long time, and we finally came up with Mustang Mail.”
The idea that Jon and his team finally settled on was an intentionally old-school way of communicating with others through handwritten, printed cards, something of an antidote to the prevalence of at-a-distance texting and social media.
“I think the best part about the JA Company Program was how you can do something wrong—and you’re always going to do something wrong—but it teaches you how to think through it in a different way,” Jon says. “That’s the most important thing about entrepreneurship, in my opinion. If you have a bad idea, you’re going to fail really hard, and if you have a good idea, you’re not going to know when it’s time to sell it off so you can start with a new one.”
Jon enjoyed great success with both JA programs. As part of the JA Titan team, Jon and his friends placed first in the regional competition over the past two years. As part of the JA Company Program, the team placed first in the JAUM Company of the Year Competition, and won the NYSE Foundation “Best Financial Performance Award” at the national competition held in Washington, D.C. In recognition of these accomplishments, JAUM named Jon the 2015 Otto Bremer Student Entrepreneur of the Year.
Whatever field he eventually pursues, Jon is certain he wants to wind up using his skills for the greater good. “Social entrepreneurship is something I’m really interested in. Just like Junior Achievement is trying to have a social impact on the world, I’d like to do something to make a change in my community. Stanford is actually known for entrepreneurship, so no matter what, I’m going to get involved with that, too,” he says.