Three Gitxsan Wet’suwet’en Education students joined more than 550 students for the National Aboriginal Youth Business Plan Competition finals in Winnipeg last week.
The competition was hosted by the Business Development Bank of Canada.
The three young entrepreneurs, Bryan Beatty, Colin Teasedale and Karista Olson entered the competition with their business plan titled Gitxsan Grease Trail Art Kits.
The trio flew to Winnipeg for what they thought was the final round of the competition and everyone was very excited including their teacher, Kirsten Barnes.
The young team and their support crew of Barnes and Sharon Ness worked very hard to prepare for the big competition and arrived with high hopes.
“The E-Spirit program is a wonderful learning experience for our youth,” Barnes said.
“It provides young people with an opportunity to leave the familiar comforts of home to participate in a national competition that broadens their understanding of their place in the world.
“The competition provides our young people with hope for the future and pride in themselves and their communities.
“I’m very grateful to the BDC and the E-Spirit organizers for all of the hard work and efforts they make every year on behalf of our students, so they may realize their full potential as the leaders of tomorrow.”
However, while it was a positive experience overall, the group learned quickly things were not exactly as they were led to believe and in the end the exciting trip also became very disappointing and frustrating, Barnes admitted.
The outcome, she said, was not what anyone had expected.
“Our students did extraordinarily well at the competition, they received the Best Trade Show Booth Award, placed in the top 5 for Best Video, and we’re one of nine finalists,” she said proudly.
“We were very hopeful, based on those three things, our students would be contenders for the grand prize or at the very least, place in the top three.”
Those hopes never came to be.
“We were shocked when our team didn’t even place as were many of the other teams,” Barnes said.
Barnes wasn’t the only one who was surprised by the outcome either.
“All week the other teams and even the judges complimented our students and expressed faith they would place in the top three,” she said.
“So you can imagine our shock when the top three teams were announced and not only were they all from the same school from the host community of Winnipeg, but none of them were listed on the top 9 finalists list and as such, were not required to present in the finals.
“Of course, after this realization, we along with the other teams, had a number of questions regarding the judging standards and decided to ask one of the organizers.
The team wanted answers, Barnes said, they were not trying to be sore losers.
The students were disappointed they weren’t even considered and they wanted to know they had lost fairly.
“When our students and the students from another team questioned the organizer she told us the first, second and third-place teams were chosen before any of the teams had arrived in Winnipeg, based on paperwork, the written business plans, alone,” Barnes explained.
“A participant from another team asked why they didn’t just send the prizes to the school and forgo the competition altogether given none of the other teams ever had a chance of winning anyway.
“Our students also questioned how the organizers justified giving the top three prizes to the same school from the host community based on paperwork they have no guarantee the students wrote themselves.
“The organizer replied the competition has always been based on business plans and it wasn’t her fault we didn’t read the policies.”
Barnes and the students assured the organizer they were well aware of the policies and again reminded her the judges based their decision on paperwork they couldn’t confirm was completed by the students on the winning teams.
By comparison, the students in the top nine proved themselves in more than one category over the span of the week, Barnes said.
The organizer did say the policies may be reviewed for next year’s competition, which only seved to frustrate the other teams as well as Barnes and the many young entrepreneurs.
“One of the students suggested that by choosing the winners based on the business plan alone, there was no reason for the teams with the winning business plans to put any effort into the other aspects of the competition and they knew it,” Barnes said.
“Had they put effort into the other aspects, they surely would have placed in the top nine, but none of them did and that alone should’ve proven to the judges they were not as invested in their business plans as the teams that did really well all around.”
Yet taking the higher road, Barnes and her team along with other disappointed teams provided some feedback and suggestions for next year’s competition.
“The top three prizes should be chosen based on the overall performance of teams in all of the required areas,” Barnes said.
“Businesses can’t be successful based on a business plan alone.
“Albeit the business plan is a crucial first step, an entrepreneur must also present a marketable item (trade show), advertise/market their product/idea (pitch commercial), and attract willing investors (presentations).
“As this is a national competition, it is important they invite the best of the best, if all three of the winners come from the same school and they’re competing against teams from all across Canada, then maybe they should look a little harder at the business plans or at the very least, question the students about their business plans to ensure they wrote them themselves.
“One cannot deny that it is very suspect that the three winning business plans all came from the same school.”
Despite the outcome, Barnes said they look forward to next year’s competition and they will also make sure the rules are clearly stated in the beginning as well as making an attempt to weigh in on changing the rules.
Organizers of the competition did not return phone calls from The Interior News.