Experienced adult entrepreneurs know that running a business is a challenge.
But students Emily Bingham, Kaitlin Brill and Abigail Bradley are just beginning to learn about how unpredictable, thrilling and rewarding the world of business can be.
The three Mount St. Mary Academy sophomores have created their own marketing company, Business Buzz.
"As a company, we specialize in audience activation and insight," said Emily. "What that means is we help reach specific demographic (groups) through social media campaigns, and we brainstorm various techniques on how we can further spread the message. Obviously, our speciality is teenagers."
In creating their business, Emily, Kaitlin and Abby wanted to stand out from the other businesses in the Mount St. Mary’s Academy Scholars program, which gives academically gifted students the opportunity to do advanced and honors-level coursework in all subject areas, and to participate in a hands-on entrepreneurship curriculum through which they create and run their own small businesses. These student businesses are affiliated with two international programs: Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship (SAGE) and Virtual Enterprises.
Business Buzz is a SAGE business.
"Abby, Emily and I knew that we didn’t want to make an actual product and we’re interested in the behind-the-scenes aspect of the business world," Kaitlin said.
Emily said that their individual traits fit perfectly together for their business, and they have become the perfect trio. Together, they have been able to think outside the box.
"It just kind of felt natural going into a marketing-related business with my writing and journalism background, Kaitlin’s people skills and creativity, and Abby’s math skills and ability to bring a more logical standpoint with her creativity," said Emily.
"We’ve since developed and refined ourselves to audience activation and specialization rather than plain marketing, but I think if we weren’t developing over time we would be doing something wrong," she continued.
Marketing is a tricky aspect of any business, but these young women have learned how to do it with finesse. Knowledge and communication are key factors.
"I think an important aspect that we learned while doing this is really just know the audience. Knowing what will reach them and make them excited," Emily said.
"Also, communication and knowing what your client wants. Making sure you ask, ‘What do you want from us, what will make you happy?’ is always the first step to a successful project, but this goes for any business."
The girls recently worked with Colvin Cleaners on its Gowns for Prom initiative. This program provides high school girls across the region with free dresses that have been donated. Thousands of cleaned, donated dresses are brought to Shea’s Performing Art Center late in April and girls can come and select a gown and have it altered. The altered dresses are later delivered to the girls in time for prom day.
Emily and her teammates’ job was to get the message out to their peers.
"We were live-tweeting from the event at Shea’s stage, Instagramming, doing Facebook Lives, creating Snapchat stories, and that kind of stuff, really just to make sure that if someone needs a gown, they could come down and get it," Emily said.
They learned a lot about the business world from their experience with Gowns for Prom. The event was a success for Colvin Cleaners and for Business Buzz – just the joy of seeing a smile on a girl’s face made the job worthwhile for Emily, Kaitlin and Abby.
"I have learned people skills, communication skills, and have gained so much insight on running a business," Kaitlin said.
"Working with Colvin Cleaners and the Billonis was really rewarding, not just because they were able to teach us a lot of the ins and outs of running a business and other valuable life lessons," Emily said. "At the distribution event we got to help so many girls put smiles on their faces while they were finding the perfect dress, and even if just one girl saw a tweet, or got an email from us and then came down and found her dress, I would still consider that a major success."
One of Emily, Kaitlin and Abby’s favorite parts about working on this project was they had several chances to appear on TV shows and radio while promoting Gowns for Prom.
"The media opportunities we had were incredible. We did interviews on three major news stations, Channels 2, 4, and 7, and we also did Kiss 98.5 with Janet (Snyder) and Nick (Picolas) and WBEN," Emily said.
Abby said working with the media was thrilling and a little out of her comfort zone, but she learned the impact of it on their business and Gowns for Prom.
"I thought it was really great to see so many different organizations rally around such a great cause," she said.
"My personal experience, it was nerve-wracking at first, being on live TV or on air, where you don’t get a second chance if you mess up. But after the first time it got easier and became fun to see what the reporter would ask or how they would open a segment. We made it enjoyable."
The Academy Scholars program at Mount St. Mary has encouraged many young women to create student-run businesses about something they’re passionate about. "Over the years, we have been thrilled at the success our student-entrepreneurs have had, including becoming national champions in 2015 and 2016 and representing the United States at the international level," said Julie Wojick, assistant principal for institutional advancement. "But, more than that, it had been exciting to watch students develop a love for entrepreneurship and choose college majors and future career paths based on the experiences they had in Academy Scholars," she said.
"Business Buzz has blended two important parts of our entrepreneurship program – developing a great small business and giving back to our community. Their work helping promote Gowns for Prom was important to the event’s success, and it gave them valuable business experience. It also allowed them to help other girls in Western New York, which is the best part," Wojick said.
Abby, Kaitlin and Emily are currently getting ready to compete at the SAGE national competition later this month, as well as working on some other projects.
"The next major thing that we’ll be working on are the competitive aspects that we’ll need for the competition. We’ll be traveling to Las Vegas over Memorial Day weekend for the SAGE national competition, so we need to focus on creating and perfecting a presentation and an annual report," Emily said.
Emily, Kaitlin and Abby have learned a lot about entrepreneurship and have advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
"I think just knowing that it’s a lot of work, but doing the work is going to develop a lot of important skills for later in your life, even if you don’t carry on your business, so stay as motivated as you can," Emily said.
More importantly, do not let anything get in the way of what you want, just keep pushing through the obstacles, Kaitlin said.
"I would say that your age or amount of experience doesn’t make you any less of a valuable asset to a company, so do not be afraid to share your ideas."
Amelia Waddell is a sophomore at Mount St. Mary Academy.