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Local students 'Enter the Den'

Students in Grades 7-12 present their business plans to a panel of judges.

THUNDER BAY – If you walked into the Hammarskjold High School lecture theatre on Wednesday, you might have thought you had entered a taping for the TV show Dragon’s Den.

That assumption wouldn’t be far off, only it was students doing the presentations instead of people trying to get their businesses off the ground.

For the 14th year, Thunder Bay Ventures held its ‘Enter the Den’ competition, which encourages local students from Grades 7 to 12 to strengthen their knowledge about entrepreneurship.

“Our main reasons for putting this event on is to inform students, get them involved and let them understand that entrepreneurship can be a career choice or something they can do as a side job,” said Maria Vidotto, general manager of Thunder Bay Ventures.

“The kids are so excited to take part in this and we get some great feedback from them afterwards. They understand that with dedication, perseverance and patience, they can do something great.

“They also believe in themselves more. We’ve had students come up to us and say ‘I just feel so much more comfortable presenting in front of a group and I’ve just grown so much from doing this.’”

Over 100 applications were received from local students.

Five semifinalists in Grades 7 and 8 and five semifinalists in Grades 9-12 took part in Wednesday’s event, which saw them sharing their research and planning with a panel of judges.

Natasha Roussin, a Grade 10 student at St. Patrick High School, said she learned a lot over the last two months.

“It was a very hands-on process,” Roussin said. “I certainly didn’t know just how much really went into all of the behind the scenes stuff.

“I think there’s so many entrepreneurs out there who make this look easy.”

Roussin was the first place finisher in the Grade 9-12 category with her business Safe Stimming, which an is online platform app based around different games that can help people stim and go through their daily lives, making it easier to navigate.

Stimming is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, words, moving objects and other behaviours that are found in people who have developmental disabilities. 

“I think it's really important to get rid of the stigma that's related and attached to stimming, especially physical stemming in public areas and schools,” Roussin said.

“I think getting rid of that stigma and making it more inclusive is huge.”

Autumn Larocque – a Grade 7 student from Ecole Elsie MacGill – finished first in the Grade 7-8 category with the Origami Experience, which is a local origami crane business that she started when she was 11 years old.

“We had a presentation about the Den at our school and I decided to enter it,” Larocque said.

“I think this really got me out of my comfort zone. I was able to present in front of an audience and it’s getting a little easier to do that in front of strangers.”

The first place finishers in each category receive $1,000, with second and third place receiving $500 and $250 respectively.

“The idea of this competition isn’t that they have to go out and start their own business now,” Vidotto said. “It’s just to create a business plan and to have it be well-researched and well-defended.

“A lot of these kids already have a business though, so they can definitely put what they have learned towards that or whatever it is that they choose to do.”

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