Imagine driving all the way from Carmacks to Whitehorse just to buy helium-filled balloons for a family birthday party.
Now imagine driving home with those helium balloons floating about in your vehicle.
That’s a driving hazard and, hence, a regular challenge for partygoers in Carmacks.
Enter three clever Grade 12 students at Tantalus School.
They took it upon themselves to solve the problem, and, perhaps, make a little money in the process.
The young women have formed a small business called Carmacks Party Supplies.
“We pretty much just supply party stuff, like balloons, party hats, napkins, tablecloths — we have so much that I can’t even name all the stuff we have,” said Chantelle DesRoches, 18.
So far, they have designed a business plan, made marketing material and supplied two local events with party supplies.
Besides satisfaction, the young people will be graded for the project in their Technology and Industrial Arts class and receive a free trip to Halifax.
In fact, the entire graduating class of nine students will be going to Halifax to participate in an aboriginal youth business planning competition, an annual event sponsored by the Business Development Corporation of Canada.
This year’s event, which will feature business plans from aboriginal students from across Canada, will be held at Dalhousie University, May 13 to 16.
On the first day, the students will give a PowerPoint presentation of their business plan in a lecture hall in front of an audience of 100 people.
“It’s a long way from Carmacks and the way we teach school,” said technology teacher Peter Menzies.
From this, finalists will be chosen and called back the next day to give a second presentation.
After first through third places are awarded, students will set up booths and displays marketing their businesses.
Menzies will take three teams to Halifax.
The new party-supply entrepreneurs will be going with an art co-op group that has a business plan to sell traditional Northern Tutchone drums.
For sale are two traditional drum designs, a design the group invented themselves and a make-your-own drum kit.
The students will hold drum-making workshops with supplies provided.
“They’ve been making drums for two or three years now; they’re really good at it,” said Menzies.
“Two in particular are really good artists so this is a pretty exciting venture because the drums they’re making are for sale now.”
The drums will sold at the trade show.
The third group from the graduating class is planning to offer a skate-sharpening service at the local recreation centre.
As it stands, if Carmacks residents want their skates sharpened, they must travel to Whitehorse.
The group raised $2,500 to purchase a SkatePal, an automated Finnish-made skate sharpener.
The sharpener won’t be ordered until August and the service will be implemented in the hockey and figure-skating seasons.
Future Tantalus students will operate it.
Entrepreneurship training is a good fit with technology education, said Menzies.
“Planning a small business is a really good way to orient kids to what it might be to actually be self-employed,” he said.
Self-employment and small business is becoming increasingly important for people who live in Yukon communities, as government is no longer creating a lot of work and mining has declined.
“So, if people want to live in these small towns — and people do — then really small business is the best way to do it,” said Menzies.
“It could be cultural industry, like art, or it could be tourism, cutting wood — there’s lots of ideas, but the challenge in rural areas is, there aren’t very many small businesses, so it’s all brand new.
“I think aboriginal governments think entrepreneurship is an important priority, but it’s one of these long-term developmental things.”
For this reason, it is important to introduce high school students to business practices as some of them many go into business for themselves, said Menzies.
It is also for these reasons that he had his students take their business plans one step further and actually start businesses of their own.
“I think that’s going to be interesting to the people down in Halifax that it’s gone a step further,” said Menzies.
The Carmacks students will be competing with about 35 teams from across Canada.
Menzies said he will be surprised if his students win any prizes, but added, “We didn’t expect to win gold medals at the Canada Winter Games.”
The Carmacks kids are the first Yukoners to attend the competition.
“So, for me, as long as they show up prepared and try their best, we’ll see how the results go and it might be our day; it might not be,” said Menzies.
“It’s really a matter now of the students believing in themselves. That’s what this whole project is about: taking your school work to another level of self-confidence and self-direction.
“And that’s where you have to let them go, you can’t do it for them, can you?”