M.A. Ferguson-Rich
Ohio.com correspondent

HUDSON: Nearly 20 high school students were given pipe cleaners and 10 minutes and were challenged to come up with a new product including a description of their target market.

The exercise was just one part of Monday's Junior Achievement Be Entrepreneurial Conference attended by members of Hudson High's entrepreneurship class.

Organized by JA, the high school and the Hudson Chamber of Commerce, 18 of the 22 members of the class spent the day at Lexi-Comp. Inc. located on Terex Road.

A team of business volunteers made presentations and conducted interactive programs with the students, covering topics presented in the Junior Achievement student workbook.

Betty Banks-Burke, who teaches the class, explained that after the workshop all of the student in the class would be required to prepare a business plan for competition.

The business volunteers covered the elements of a successful start-up, including choosing a product, identifying a customer base, identifying competitive advantages and a discussion of ethics and social responsibility.

Karyn Biggs, the Hudson entrepreneur-in-residence, created the ten-minute product exercise for her session entitled, "Who's My Customer". The students, working in groups, could assume that the pipe cleaners were any material, and could be modified in any way.

The results ranged from a juice box holder to adjustable heels for women's shoes. Students had to describe how their devices would work and who would be likely to buy them, and had to think on their feet when other students or faculty challenged their conclusions.

One team's target market was children. The product was a custom-made sword from video games or movies. Biggs questioned whether the parents of minor children would be interested in buying any type of sword. The issue of affordability for children was also questioned. The students on the team quickly adjusted their target market, concluding that adult gamers and moviegoers might be more likely purchasers.

Bob Coppedge, owner of Simplex-IT, a company that does IT for small and medium businesses, said that you must determine your company's competitive advantages or you will fail. The majority of his customers, he said, have come to Simplex after dissatisfaction with the way they were treated at other IT firms. His firm goes in and tells customers "we can do it better," and eliminates areas of dissatisfaction, such as allowing a customer to terminate the agreement after 30 days. Clients prefer this freedom and flexibility to longer agreements, he said, and that is one of his firm's competitive advantages.

After the students have completed their business plans, working either individually or in groups of up to three, Banks-Burke will grade them. The best of them will then be sent on to a team of eight judges from the Chamber of Commerce in Hudson.

A first prize of $500 will be awarded along with $300 for second place and $200 for third.

The plan placing first then goes on to Cleveland for a competition covering Northeast Ohio.

Ordinarily that would be the end of the program, however; Hudson High entrepreneurs have something special in place.

There is no national level of competition, Banks-Burke said, which bothered a local Hudson businessperson. This donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has agreed to finance one student's plan into an actual start-up.

On April 30, Hudson High will host a "Shark Tank" where students from two entrepreneurial classes will present their ideas. The start-up winner will be chosen from those students.

Banks-Burke said that this was done last year, and there is one young entrepreneur with a business start-up in process.

Other sponsor's of Monday's conference were The Burton D. Morgan Foundation and Papa John's Pizza.