What's Happening In Southern Alberta

JASA Scholarship winners in Sweden

Background

The International Innovation Scholarship was offered by Junior Achievement of Southern Alberta (JASA) and Chartered Professional Accountants (CPA). We were fortunate enough to be selected to represent JASA in Sweden and embrace a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet with the JA Sweden’s students and staff. The main objective of our trip was to learn about Swedish company program students’ innovative products/services and use their knowledge to develop methods to encourage innovation in Alberta’s company program. A secondary goal was to implement a grand competition in Canada similar to JA Sweden’s national championship conference. Lastly, the two of us were looking forward to meeting the Swedish students and making  connections that will last a lifetime.

Our Observations
The national championship was held in StockholmsMässan, an international and Congress fairs venue. There were 200 teams from across Sweden that competed for awards and scholarships.  The conference was held for two days and we knew that it wasn’t enough time to cover every business at the competition. Quite frankly, we wanted it to last longer because it was marvelous talking to students with profound mindsets while sharing an interest in business. In fact, sometimes we caught ourselves talking to a company for more than twenty minutes. There were eight main categories of enterprises; House, Fashion & Design, Food & Drinks, Beauty & Body, Sports & Leisure, Technology, Culture & Education and International Companies. It was wonderful to see student businesses in a variety of fields, and with that thought, we had completely indulged ourselves into the conference.

During the event, we enjoyed talking with the JA Sweden members and learned the operations of the Swedish company program. It’s mandatory by law to incorporate entrepreneurship into the high school curriculum and Junior Achievement of Sweden has taken advantage of that by offering students to participate in Company Program.  Those who choose to be part of the Company Program form teams of 1-8 people to start their company. Students are required to find a mentor who will guide them on their journey to developing a successful startup. The student companies are segregated by different regions throughout Sweden. They compete at their local competition to win awards and be chosen to attend the national championship in Stockholm.

At the conference, one of our assignments was to interview ten different teams that have created innovative products or services. We had come across numerous companies that qualified our criteria and it was quite challenging to select the top ten that would effectively convey and encourage the message of innovation to future company program students in Southern Alberta. We planned to tour and briefly learn about as many companies as we can on the first day and video tape the most suitable enterprises on the second day. We were able to finalize the ten businesses that offered unique products/services and interviewed them. We will be creating a video that will include these interviews and words of wisdom from the Swedish students on encouraging innovation for Southern Alberta’s students for years to come.

While analyzing the most innovative products and services, we noticed that the top performing companies were not eager to drive monetary benefit. Instead, they focused on enhancing people’s lives through solving daily problems with their unique products and services. Furthermore, some student enterprises strived to assist local businesses in expanding their markets and boosting sales. In addition to above, these are just a few benefits that the student-led companies aimed to achieve.

The Swedes had taken a vast interest in technology. Within the Technology section, there were companies that produced fantastic services that included; finding jobs for youth within minutes, creating stunning marketing videos for local businesses, designing gun skins for video games are few to mention. As an innovative idea, some JA companies created websites, apps or managed social media for other student enterprises in return for free advertising. There were three particularly interesting businesses that we thought were worthy of being video interviewed; Minute Video UF, Together Active UF and Time 2 work UF.

Moreover, we found few companies like Shelter UF, Anti-Theft UF, Fidgety UF created prototypes of their products which was interesting. Their goal was to launch their prototype in the market and get feedback from potential buyers. In the meantime they continued to conduct market research, get capital for outsourcing production and find manufacturers that were capable of producing their envisioned product in their budget. These students teams; Shelter UF, Together Active UF, Minute Video UF, Anti-Theft UF and several others told us during our discussion that they were aiming to become sustainable businesses after the program is concluded. The students are self-motivated and inspired to follow their passion for business. They are eager to get their product into the market, learn from their mistakes, improve their products and tactics and watch their business grow.

The national championship was well organized and we had the opportunity to attend the opening ceremony and the gala dinner. Before the opening ceremony, the students had come together and gathered in their respective regional groups. They were extremely loud, excited and were cheering on their regions with banners, horns and drums. Moreover, the gala dinner was a thrilling event that included a star performer, company of the year presentations and fantastic hosts.
Last but not least, all the Canadians were dazzled by the company booths because they were extremely well decorated. Hats off to the Swedish students!

We were wrong to expect Swedish students not to be fluent in their English. They had astonished us while having a conversation and selling their products. Although some people had little difficulty pronouncing a few words, their willingness to speak and improve English had astounded us. We are glad to have met JA Sweden’s staff and students as they were extremely friendly and welcomed us with open arms.

 

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