To become a successful entrepreneur, there’s often a certain level of risk involved. High stakes, knowing when and where to invest, trusting your team, and – perhaps most importantly – pulling out when necessary, are just a few struggles most entrepreneurs face. As we learned from putting together this month’s issue, entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint of heart. That said, while not everyone is cut out to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, there are certainly applicable business and life skills entrepreneurship can teach everyone. This month, we speak to students from the British School of Beijing (BSB Shunyi Campus) and Canadian International School of Beijing (CISB) about how school programs have shaped their views on business and entrepreneurship endeavors.
BSB’s Young Entrepreneurs Competition “ According to the others, I was a bit obsessed with the project ”Within the IGCSE business studies course at BSB Shunyi Campus, one of the course’s major assignments is the marketing project. Culminating with the school’s annual Beijing Young Entrepreneurs Competition, the project allows students to apply the skills taught in the business studies class in a practical sense. David Mounter, economics and business studies teacher explains, “[Year 10] students develop a product, fund it, and promote it in front of real-life entrepreneurs in Beijing. It’s an excellent learning experience and students can also gain leadership and entrepreneurial skills as they work through the unit.”
Students conduct their own market research in order to find out what product their target market wants. This includes student surveys using a combination of open and closed ended questions, collecting and collating data, and finally dividing the market into subsets of consumers, a process called market segmentation. It takes four rounds of research in all before students decide on their final product. At the fifth annual Beijing Young Entrepreneurs Competition held at BSB, students presented their products and were judged by a panel of external entrepreneurs.
"According to the others, I was a bit obsessed with the project"
We speak to South Korean native Chan Young Park, now in Grade 11. Park’s group was awarded first place for best pitch in last academic year’s competition. His group made a universal adaptor for apple and android devices capable of storing files and charging various devices. The 16 year-old shares the highs and lows of the competition as well and the valuable lesson the project taught him about being a successful entrepreneur.
Tell us more about the marketing project. My team included myself and some of my friends from the business class. The project was all about the process of marketing a specific product to a specific market through the stages of brainstorming, carrying out primary and secondary market research, designing products, deciding the best way to advertise, and where to sell, to designing posters, producing commercial video, creating a website, contacting actual producers, drawing up a financial plans, and finally preparing a presentation to persuade the investors. The team had to stick with the project for approximately half a year.
What kind of challenges did you face?It was a totally new kind of challenge; we had to start from the basics asking ourselves questions like ‘What kind of product should we create?’, ‘What is this project asking us to do?’, and ‘What products are most practical?’ After endless discussions, the team defined a practical product as one that that could increase efficiency. The team came up with several ideas of products and services but as time went by, it became increasingly hard for us to predict what customers actually wanted. Our ideas sort of stagnated.
Instability of members was another problem. One of the team leaders left the school early on and another member left just two months before the competition. The work of six people was now on four. As a leader of the team, I had to delegate and divide work among members and no one in the group wanted to take on the leftover duties. I didn’t expect that other members would find it hard to finish the work in a given time. But according to the others, I was a bit obsessed with the project.
What skills did working on the project and competition help you develop? I’ll always be grateful for this competition because I gained confidence in public speaking. Until the competition, I often felt embarrassed about making mistakes on stage or during presentations. In preparation for the competition, however, I was given an opportunity to develop. I watched several presentations by famous figures like Steve Jobs. Sometimes, I even tried to copy their movements on stage. These efforts worked really well on the day of the competition and I’m not shy on stage anymore. I make mistakes, but I’m able to turn them into jokes.
Besides coming up with a good product or service idea, what advice would you give other students thinking of starting a business project?Before the competition, I was one of the people who believed that teamwork doesn’t matter as much as the individual with the best ability,but teamwork does matter. The most important part of running a business is not complex computer and maths skills or fancy language ability – it’s being able to depend on your team.
What’s more important in the context of entrepreneurship, innovation or follow through?It is best when the two accompany each other, but follow through is even more significant in the world of business. When there are only innovative ideas, but dedication and motivation are lacking, there will only be numerous projects stuck at the beginning stage. If nothing drives a good idea, the value of creativity is worthless.
Do you strive to be an entrepreneur in the future? What traits do you think make a successful entrepreneur? I will definitely be an entrepreneur in the future. This experience made a great impression on me. Perfection is what drives an entrepreneur to achieve the goal. Efficiency is the principle that keeps the entrepreneur in line with perfection.
CISB Invest is Here to HelpOver at CISB, a group of eight students and their humanities teacher came together at the start of 2015 to form a club called CISB Invest. The club cooperates with a website called kiva.org, an organization that supports people from developing countries in need of financial help. CISB Invest club members work together to organize monthly activities. Fundraising efforts range from international food fairs to smaller money generating events such as on-site henna tattooing. Additionally, club members are responsible for deciding, via Kiva’s website, who they will lend money to. This academic year, the club has almost doubled in size to include 15 students.
We caught up 15 year-old Martyna Pekala, originally from Poland and a founding member of CISB Invest. Martyna tells beijingkids about the philanthropic projects the club invests in and the most important lessons CISB Invest has taught her.
Tell us more about CISB Invest and its micro-financing initiatives. What kind of initiatives does the club fund?Kiva lends a certain amount of money, so that people can start up a new business, pay medical bills, or even for college tuition. Since it is a loan, all the money is eventually returned. Our job is to raise money through activities that we organize at school and then invest it into some of the causes provided by Kiva. Once we receive the money back, we simply invest it again – it’s a cycle. So far, we helped repair a roof, pay university fees, deliver a baby, provide fishing equipment, start-up a cooking business, and much more. The greatest part about this project is that we help individuals – we know their name and story – and the fact that we might have significantly influenced someone’s life.
How does the club decide which projects to invest in?Since we are all students, we are concerned by the issue of children not having a chance to attend schools and so we tend to look for education causes. However, Kiva tells you how many days are left until one’s money request is over; therefore, we often try to fully fund those whose time is almost up, regardless of the field associated with it.
How much are typical loans? We usually lend between USD 25-100 for each cause, which is a typical amount suggested by Kiva.
"In terms of what I’ve gained, it’s a feeling that our actions matter and what we do has an impact on how society functions"
How does the club determine whether an investment is “safe”?Safe investments are mainly about making sure sources or organizations that take part in this process are trustworthy and effective. Furthermore, an investor should not be afraid to take risks, yet their decisions must be reasonable and wise.
Conversely, what projects aren’t generally considered safe investments? Anything that might be questioned by law is not a safe investment. Besides that, processes that aren’t specific or well-planned are most likely to fail.
What skills does CISB Invest develop? This club definitely helps develop time-management skills, organizational ability, and empathy. When it comes to organizing fundraisers, we need to be quick and creative in order to get it done as soon as possible. In terms of what I’ve gained, it’s a feeling that our actions matter and what we do has an impact on how society functions.
What has being a part of CISB Invest taught you about and entrepreneurship and investment?CISB Invest teaches that entrepreneurship requires smart strategies. It’s important to organize every single event with all the relevant details, and manage time wisely. We needed to decide on the date, duration, and the cost of every fundraiser we hold, which teaches us how to construct smart and realistic plans. Secondly, I’ve learned the main idea of investment; that you have to spend money first in order to earn much more later.
Have there been any stand out projects CISB Invest has helped get off the ground?One of the people we’ve helped was Sylvia from South Africa. She’s running a daycare center and she takes care of children on her own. Her dream was to open another center and create new job opportunities for young women. Within the Kiva loan and CISB Invest as one of the funders, she was able to buy a kitchen unit and renovated the school yard so that the environment could be safe for the children that already attend the daycare and the ones about to start. The loan made her business more attractive to current and future customers and therefore, she keeps her business going.
This article originally appeared on page 38-41 of the beijingkids November 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Courtesy of BSB and CISB