For Morgan Sweeney, a recent graduate of Mankato East High School in Mankato, the Junior Achievement Company Program she participated in last year taught her a skill she feels will serve her well the rest of her life: how to solicit cooperation in pursuit of a goal.
Sweeney, who recently turned 19, already had some past experience negotiating as part of a group. The youngest of triplet sisters, she also has an older sister and brother, making her “the youngest of the youngest” in her family, she says with a chuckle.
Sweeney served as the president of Xcaliber, a JA Company started by 13 Mankato East students ranging in age from freshmen to seniors.
As with other JA Company efforts, Sweeney and her teammates first spent time devising their business idea—manufacturing and selling custom cell phone covers—and then sought outside investment to fund the company. “We were trying to find people to invest and Taylor Corporation heard about us and decided that they would support us,” Sweeney says. (Taylor Corp., founded by noted entrepreneur and businessman Glen Taylor, is a North Mankato-based printing and communications company with more than 9,000 employees and 80 subsidiaries. It has been a generous supporter and source of volunteers for a number of JA programs.)
“[Taylor Corp.] thought the idea of high school kids starting a business and being real entrepreneurs was really cool and they wanted to help us out,” Sweeney says about the partnership with Taylor Corp. “They ultimately manufactured our cases for us, and they took a percentage of the profit from each case in return. We really learned a lot from them about how to sell and how to promote our business and price our products and everything. They taught us so much about the business aspects of running a company.”
One particular business basic Sweeney’s team discovered was that to sell their products, ranging in price from $30 to $75, they first had to find the right market. “We had kind of a problem initially figuring out who to sell to,” Sweeney says. “We originally wanted to sell to teenagers but in the first two weeks, we made only six sales. We met to talk about it and realized that we kept getting the same answer: ‘I can’t afford it.’ Instead, we started talking to our parents and their coworkers, our grandparents and older people and that got us a lot further.”
Sweeney and her team utilized social media, including Facebook and Twitter, and a personalized website through which interested customers could learn more about the student company. “We put together a bio about ourselves that said we were a group of students who wanted to start our own business and become entrepreneurs,” Sweeney explains. “We said we were local kids and we wanted to learn how to start a business through this.”
Sweeney’s taste of entrepreneurship seems to have whetted her appetite for some day owning her own business. She plans to attend South Central Community College this spring and then transfer to Minnesota State University-Mankato to pursue nursing. “My dad owns a business doing adult foster care, so I’ve been around the health field my whole life,” Sweeney says. “I’ve realized that business is really cool and I’m thinking that with nursing, I might be able to do that and own a business.”
If Sweeney does start her own business, the central premise she learned from her student-run company will serve her in good stead: “I really learned a lot about the importance of cooperation,” Sweeney says. “You really learn that you do always have to work with people and not argue. Probably the most valuable thing I learned was the importance of partnership and everyone working together. It was a lot of fun.”