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‘Shark Tank’ for students gives fifth graders a crash course in entrepreneurship

Rocio Hernandez
Rocio Hernandez
EducationK-12 Education

Fifth grade student Daniela Olguin-Ramos has many fond memories of camping with her family, but setting up their tents wasn’t always a smooth process. She remembers one instance where her dad was frustrated with her and other family members for not connecting the correct rods. 

Olguin-Ramos and four other classmates drew from experiences such as those to create a mock business proposal for a custom tent that can be set up with a push of a button — no connecting rods needed. 

“We fixed that problem by making the poles automatic. You don’t have to worry about anything,” she said Tuesday to a panel of judges during the 2023 Swimming with the Big Fish luncheon held by  Junior Achievement of Southern Nevada (JASN). The nonprofit is focused on bringing financial literacy education to K-12 schools in low-income communities. 

Olguin-Ramos’ team, aptly named Feel at Home Tent, was one of three mock business proposals presented by student teams from Fay Herron Elementary School in North Las Vegas. Their product came out on top of two other ideas — an animal-shaped sippy cup designed for teething toddlers and a brush kit designed to be gentle and effective on tangled hair. 

The three final teams were selected from among 25 other teams made up of the school’s more than 90 fifth graders. The teams spent six weeks developing their mock business proposals as part of the “JA: It's My Business!” entrepreneurship program under the guidance of Junior Achievement staff and volunteers. 

Junior Achievement of Southern Nevada President Michelle Jackson said the competition started in 2017, but recently started taking off a few years ago when they got community partners to raise the stakes and offer scholarships for the students. 

Over the years, the organization has worked with a variety of schools and students at different grade levels, but Jackson said upper elementary-age students tend to be best suited for it. 

“They really do get into it,” she said. “Kids don't have the same barriers that we do as adults. And so I think we're probably really missing out on a lot of great ideas from students because they don't see the challenges that might come up. They just focus on the end results.”

Fay Herron Elementary School Principal Michelle Wheatfill, center, watches her fifth-grade students make business pitches during Junior Achievement of Southern Nevada Shark Tank-style entrepreneurship contest at Allegiant Stadium on May 2, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Fay Herron Principal Michelle Wheatfill said she wanted her students to participate in the program so they could learn how to work as a team, as well as hone their communication and public speaking skills.

“They do small class presentations, but on a larger scale, they haven't had the opportunity due to the pandemic,” she said. “So we're really building lifelong skills and entrepreneurial skills, giving these kids an idea that there might be something for them in the future where they could be an entrepreneur.”

Wheatfill said she was especially proud of the finalists, because not all the kids on those teams are typical “A” students who are used to excelling academically. 

“So when they found out that they were one of the top three, their excitement and joy to see that they actually did something that proved to be successful and somebody liked their idea was priceless for me to see as a principal,” she said. 

The students’ hard work culminated at the luncheon hosted Tuesday at Allegiant Stadium. 

Like Olguin-Ramos’ group, Team Heavenly Detangler, an all-girls group and second-place winner, was inspired by a common problem — the team members’ shared struggles with brushing their hair. 

The third-place winner, Team Sip and Chew, presented a product made with the students’  baby brothers and sisters in mind. The team brought two prototypes, bright yellow, duck-shaped cups with orange rubber feet and a beak, with them for the presentation. 

UNLV President Keith Whitfield, Las Vegas Raiders President Sandra Douglass Morgan and Nevada State Bank President and CEO Terry Shirey served as the judges who students pitched their business ideas to, similar to the process in the television show “Shark Tank.”

The students’ critical thinking skills were put to the test when they got to the Q&A portion of the presentation. They were asked questions such as how they planned to market their product, what their target market was and their production costs, requiring them  think on their feet and demonstrate how well developed their ideas were.  

But rather than competing for funds for their startup companies, the student teams were vying for $9,000, $4,000 and $2,000 UNLV scholarships for the first-, second- and third-place winners, respectively. The scholarships are split evenly between the team members. 

Beyond the scholarship money, the students said they came away from the experience with lessons that will help them in the future. 

“I personally think that this all just gave us a boost of confidence from what we had before and this scholarship money is also going to help all of us in the future,” said Rosario Rodriguez from Team Heavenly Detangler.

Her team member Naomi Rivadeneyra said the project taught her that not everything is easy. 

“This project, when we got it, seemed really easy, but in reality, it was really stressful,” she said. “We were all over the place and we had to practice and practice our lines.”

Olguin-Ramos said before this, she was more comfortable working on her own because she is used to being independent at home, but this experience taught her how to be part of a team. 

“I think working together will be very nice for my experience because I want to be a lawyer or governor or the first woman to be president,” she said.


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