Mekhi Martin knows that he wants to be an entrepreneur when he is finished with his formal education.
A 16-year-old student at Charles Herbert High School in Springdale in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Mekhi operates a small business — Sainted Clothing — out of his Glenarden, Maryland, house. Despite being a young entrepreneur, when he was offered to participate in the activities of Junior Achievement of Greater Washington, he was reluctant. However, he was urged to do so by a compelling force in his life.
“My mama told me to get involved,” Mekhi said.
Mekhi was one of 70 Washington, D.C.-area high school students and Junior Achievement participants in the 2023 JA Entrepreneurship Summit that took place from July 24-28. The students learned from Junior Achievements instructors about the inner workings of how a business operates from marketing and financing aspects.
Throughout the week, the students were put into teams and tasked with working together to prepare for a “Shark Tank”-like competition that took place on the campus of the University of Maryland, College Park on July 28.
A recent study by Junior Achievement USA reported that 60% of teens would prefer to start a business over having a traditional job. Jamil Wells, the Greater Washington chapter’s director of education spoke of her awareness of the study, saying the summit is designed to stimulate students’ interest in entrepreneurship.
“The students designed businesses to meet challenges our country faces such as mental health, physical health, homelessness, pollution and climate change,” said Wells. “Students are urged to come up with solutions, not with an eye toward making a profit, but helping the community.”
The Future Entrepreneurs
Mekhi, whose team focused on mental health, said becoming active with Junior Achievement has increased his knowledge of how businesses operate, particularly with marketing. While he said he prefers not to get into the debate of entrepreneurship versus working for someone else, he explained in some situations both could be acceptable.
“It is good to have both,” he said. “By having a job and operating a business you have two sources of income. You will have more money.”
However, Ruth Amha, a 15-year-old student at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland, slightly disagrees with Martin.
“I want to explore entrepreneurship,” Ruth said. “I am not under pressure from my family to get a job, but I do want to start my own business. My experience with Junior Achievement is helping me to chart my own path.”
Ruth’s older brother Gabriel also attends St. Andrew’s. Sixteen-year-old Gabriel sided with his sister and said entrepreneurship is the path for him.
“I am taking steps now so I can work for myself in the future,” Gabriel said. “I do not need to work for someone else and own a business as a side option. The things I am learning from Junior Achievement is giving me the tools and expertise to start and maintain a business.”
The Amhas participated in the homelessness team during the pitch competition. Another participant who worked with a homelessness team was Alex Selmon, a 15-year-old student at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland.
Alex said he also plans to be an entrepreneur.
“The Junior Achievement staff and volunteers are great, teaching kids how to run a business,” Alex said, before adding his decided perks to owning a business. “I want to make money and be my own boss.”
The pitch competition took place in a large classroom at the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center at the University of Maryland. Selected by Junior Achievement executives, the judges consisted of a business educator and entrepreneurs.
Each team had three minutes to pitch their businesses to the judges. After the pitches, teams had to defend their business strategy under questioning of the judges.
After several rounds, the judges selected Eco-Excursions, a website that focused on green travel as the first-place winner. Second place was a team, Trngl, which focused on mental health. Wheels for a Fresh Start took third place.