A group of Bay of Plenty college students have earned national recognition by developing and selling thousands of dollars worth of educational cards. They say the experience of building a business has been priceless - and a big opportunity could be in their future.
The trio from Otumoetai College called Wider Horizons has taken their product, Tau Mohio Number Knowledge, through two years of growth - from inception, to development, to sales and marketing, as part of the Young Enterprise Scheme (or YES). YES is a national programme for Year 12 and 13 students to set up and run a real business during the school year.
Wider Horizons started in 2017 when a team of Year 12 students - Phoebe Adler, Adriana Vickers, Amia Wharry, Faith Merrick and Natalie Dawick - decided there were not enough Te Reo Māori teaching resources for young children in New Zealand. “When we were growing up, we didn’t have a lot of opportunity to learn Te Reo,” says Wharry.
They developed flashcards with numbers 1-10, plus 10 cards with artwork relating to the numbers - things a child might see in a garden. Wider Horizons advertised within the college for an illustrator and selected Year 10 student Grace Finnegan to design artwork. Award-winning children’s author Moira Wairama wrote poems for the booklet that accompanies the cards.
The product is aimed at ages two to five, though the group says older kids may also enjoy reading the poems.
Wider Horizons pitched their Tau Mohio cards to judges at the YES regional Dragon’s Den competition in June 2017, earning second place.
The product started as a simple Te Reo Māori counting, numbers and matching game aimed at early childcare centres. The group last year won the YES regional title for Tauranga/Western Bay of Plenty and competed at YES nationals in Wellington in December. Wharry said one of the best things about the programme is the chance to interact with the business community. The group had a financial investor, but raised most of its start-up capital through chocolate sales and a movie night.
Marketing efforts included working an Auckland trade show, resulting in sales to Whangarei and Invercargill, plus a Facebook page and a (currently inactive) website.
This year, the group shrank from five to three, with Year 13 students Wharry, Adler and Vickers remaining. The company branched out and developed an app which allows users to hear audio of the poems. Wider Horizons worked with Dutch firm Layar to add the new component. “The experience made us look at the business from another perspective,” says Wharry.
Another marketing push involved emailing more than 5000 early childhood centres nationwide, plus 100 libraries. The cards are also on sale at the national museum, Te Papa, in Wellington.
Wider Horizons in 2018 earned $13,000 in revenue and $6700 in profit from selling 455 sets of cards which retailed at $38.90 each and wholesaled for $23.00. This year, the business will donate $2 per set sold at retail price to Plunket.
During a break at the YES Regional Finals event in October, parent Tania Wharry stood in the foyer of the Tauranga Art Gallery, with her daughter’s team and their parents. She praised the girls’ passion and motivation. “And just the three of you is incredible, because there’s more than three roles that you had to fill. And I think it is your dogged determination, perseverance, all those things are pretty inspirational.”
Otumoetai Head of the Business Department Nyssa Poffley is in her twelfth year of coaching Young Enterprise Scheme participants. Poffley says students who stay with the programme for two years experience increased maturity in their business, as well as within themselves. “So when I see them at the Year 12 level and they make it to Year 13, just the growth and how they conduct themselves and speak to customers and suppliers is wonderful.”
Poffley says the kind of learning YES offers is education’s present and future. “It’s the real hands-on experience that they need. That’s why I love it so much. They’ll always remember what they’ve done at Young Enterprise.”
Students says the programme has reinforced the importance of communication and hard work. Wider Horizons’ member Adriana Vickers says, “Connections are really important. We now understand how to run a business and how much effort it takes.”
The addition of an app in year two of Wider Horizon’s card development proved challenging. Wharry says, “We learned there are not a lot of places that have interactive resources. It’s not as easy as you think.” The team bought a subscription to Layar and downloaded its product before adding it to their own. “You scan the image and it reads the poem,” explains Vickers.
Poffley adds working with peers can provide obstacles, too. “It’s hard enough for adults to deal with teamwork and they’re dealing with teamwork, credits, money, on top of friendships. I think it’s actually quite challenging for them - communication, time management, negotiation…”
That’s why Adler says help from teachers like Poffley is key. “She’s been doing it for years and she’s good with finances. She suggests stuff to add and remove from our speeches and annual reviews.” Adler also credits three mentors with keeping the team on track: Trish Dawick, an educational resource distributor; David Altena, who specialises in technology and marketing; and Nina La Lievre, who helps start-up businesses. “Trish gave us advice on how to enter the educational resource market; David helped us with technology and how to market to our target markets effectively, and Nina helped us overcome our barriers and ensure we were making steady progress. We could not have achieved what we have without our mentors.”
Wider Horizons took the runner-up spot at the Tauranga/Western Bay of Plenty YES regionals this year, competing against five other teams. They also won an award for financial management.
What’s next for Tau Mohio Number Knowledge cards? Adler says the team is planning new products to extend their range, and has also been approached by a company interested in buying the business. “It is very exciting.”
Cross-posted from Madventures