Business Excellence Awards
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A year ago, 16-year-old Christian Rijos heard a surprising statistic: chewing an aspirin can increase a heart attack victim’s chance of survival by 30 percent.
That bit of knowledge has since changed the course of his academic career. Rijos, a student at The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center in Providence, is launching a business as a school project, one aimed at encouraging people to carry a potentially lifesaving dose of aspirin at all times.
His idea: WearAspirin, a small locket containing a 325 mg dose of aspirin, the precise amount recommended for heart attack victims. The locket can be worn on a bracelet, as a lapel pin, attached to key chain, or even stuck on a dashboard. According to his business pitch, a locket five-pack would be priced at $17.95, less than the cost of two martinis plus tip.
“It will be an inexpensive gift that tells someone you care,” said Rijos, who is now finishing his sophomore year. “People on both sides of my family have suffered heart attacks. I wanted to do something to protect my family, myself and everyone else.”
That kind of brainstorming typifies what goes on at the Met, as the school is often called. It’s a public high school that draws students from all over the state, and there are so many applicants a lottery is used to determine who gets in. A big attraction is the school’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, where students take part in a 60-hour program in which they create a new business.
The program, launched in 2011, has been a huge success. Students have won top prizes in a number of business-plan competitions, including contests sponsored by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and Boston’s Startup Weekend, where contestants included teams from Babson College and Boston University. They’ve also developed four successful businesses, which are owned by the school and run by fellow students.
More importantly, says center Director Jodie Woodruff, the course helps students develop confidence, communication skills and savvy. Since the program was launched three years ago, the Met has seen scores on standardized math tests steadily rise.
“They’re learning to be problem-solvers and they’re learning tenacity,” Woodruff said. “They’re learning how to use everything they’ve got to reach a goal.”
“Can you teach entrepreneurship? People do go to school to learn about it, so yes,” added teacher Brandon Lane, who can boast of launching several businesses himself. “But it’s more about creating a mindset and an environment where ideas can flourish, and that’s what we try to do.”
Rijos is just one of several students whose business plans are grabbing attention this year.
Grace Remnick, 15, is building a craft business that will help educate people about tick-borne Lyme disease, and also raise funds for Lymelight, a charity that helps sufferers afford their medication. The product: a cotton bracelet, woven to represent the twists and turns of the ailment, with a charm that signifies hope. Remnick plans to make them herself, with her mother’s help. She’s also creating a Facebook page that tells people how to order the bracelet, and how to avoid catching Lyme disease.
“My mom and I both have Lyme disease,” she said. “Most people don’t realize it can become a chronic ailment that never goes away.”
Noah Salem, 15, has proposed creating a company that will produce low-cost videos entrepreneurs can post on crowd-sourcing Internet sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. He calls it KickVids. Salem, who has taken five video-production courses at RISD, was inspired after creating a promotional video for a volunteer art teacher who needed to buy materials for a student mural project.
“Our business would be different because we plan to charge a base fee of just $300,” Salem said. “Then, if your fundraising campaign is a success, we’ll take a percentage of what you raise. Depending on that amount, it would be between 1-5 percent.”
To raise money for his own venture, he’s been entering business-plan competitions. He’s already won $1,000 in a contest sponsored by the consulting firm Ernst & Young. The money will be used to buy more equipment for the school’s video studio.
Rhode Island’s business leaders have eagerly supported the program by speaking to classes and mentoring students. Rijos, for example, has been able to discuss his business plan with Roger LaFlamme, CEO of PW Enterprises LLC, an advanced-materials company that provides product and packaging solutions; the staff at advertising agency Duffy and Shanley; and Giovanni Feroce, the former CEO at Alex and Ani, the jewelry company.
Rijos’ mentor in the program has been well-known Providence business consultant Nicholas Kondon, who has helped launch and raise seed capital for a number of medical and high-tech ventures.
Rijos has gleaned facts from websites for the American Journal of Cardiology and the Journal of Emergency Medicine to show the need for his project. His fundraising pitch on Indiegogo informs readers that chewing aspirin reduces platelet activity by 80 percent within eight minutes. “What do cellphones, golf caps, charms, key fobs and security badges have in common?” the copy reads. “The answer is: lifesaving ASPIRIN …where it’s needed, when it’s needed.”
The locket Rijos has designed – about the same circumference as a penny – xcan be carried all those ways. He plans to sell them in five packs to help ensure buyers carry one at all times. Each pack will include a bracelet charm, a lapel pin, a keychain clip, a clip for cellphones, and something Rijos calls a “universal stick-on” that can be attached to anything from a hat visor to a car dashboard. He’s hoping the product will be manufactured in Rhode Island.
Rijos is using Indiegogo to raise capital. Originally he asked for $40,000; since then, he’s done more research and reduced the figure to $10,000. To date, he’s raised about $4,000.
“We’re just getting started,” he said. “We plan to relaunch the pitch. And we’ve collected a large number of business cards we’ll use for a mass mailing.”
He even made a presentation at The Garage, a forum for businesspeople sponsored by the Greater Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce. More than 100 people heard him speak at the event.