Real Money on the Line for Metro High School Students in ‘Shark Tank’ Event

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Students from six Metro Nashville high schools gathered on Wednesday, November 12th at the JA Teen Business Shark Tank competition held at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center (EC) hosted by Junior Achievement of Middle Tennessee (JA) and sponsored by the Phoenix Club of Nashville and the EC.

The 65 students who participated in the Shark Tank are all enrolled in the JA Company Program, an in-depth program that prepares high school students for the real world by teaching them how to develop their own business venture. Students work as a team to conceptualize, capitalize, operate, and manage their company. Sessions are led and advised by business mentors from top Nashville area companies. The Shark Tank was another opportunity for the students to raise capital to get their respective businesses off the ground.

“Volunteering for JA is one of the highlights of my week. The Shark Tank is an awesome resource that the students have, not only for funding, but to get guidance from people they otherwise would not have access to…[it] will help them realize that there is guidance when these students decide to start a business,” said Chris Neel, JA Company Program volunteer from Caterpillar Financial Services.

Each of the thirteen teams represented had their officers pitch their product ideas to a panel of judges comprised of Phoenix Club members. The judges then decided on the spot after the five minute presentation if they would be willing to invest in the company, with $150 being the highest investment available.

“I was impressed with the students' ability to work as a team, understand their customers, and present a profitable business idea to a panel of investors. The companies that got funded really deserved it. I was thrilled to be part of an event where Junior Achievement instills habits in young people that will significantly improve the trajectory of their lives,” said Justin Graham, President-Elect of The Phoenix Club of Nashville and a member of the judging panel.

 The Phoenix Club of Nashville sponsored the Shark Tank by providing judges, the investment money, and all expenses affiliated with the event. The Entrepreneur Center donated their space, expertise, and presenters. At the end of the event, eight companies received $75 and five companies received $150 to continue with their projects.

When students were not pitching their project to the Shark Tank judges, they were participating in a workshop led by EC Education Director, John Murdock. Murdock led the company teams through a series of exercises to further develop their strategy for their company moving forward and gave tips on how to differentiate themselves from competitors who might be selling the same product or service. “Our goal is to help Nashville harness the entrepreneurial spirit – all of Nashville,” explained Murdock who facilitates entrepreneur education outreach to the Nashville community from teens to seniors in their 70s. He said the one thing he would like students to take away from the Shark Tank experience is that “anything is possible if they try.”

During lunch, mentors affiliated with the EC were invited to work with the students and answer questions about how they could possibly improve their products, ideas and overall business approach.

“The JA Company Program is designed to foster the ideas, creativity, and motivation to give these students the tools they need to be successful in the future,” said Andy Schenck, Curator of Entrepreneurship Experiences for Junior Achievement USA. “Partnerships with organizations like the Phoenix Club of Nashville and the Nashville Entrepreneur Center help us fulfill our mission to empower young people to own their economic success and allow us to serve 33,000 students in Middle Tennessee each year.”

Junior Achievement provides kindergarten through high school programs throughout Middle Tennessee each school year. Companies and schools interested in participating should contact JA Director of Programs Elizabeth Carroll at 615.627.1185 or