Entrepreneurial Skills Are Order of the Day for JA

CHAMPION TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Before founding Pizza Joe’s 40 years ago, Joe Seminara wore many hats in the customer service world

As a teenager, he worked in his father’s shoe repair shop, delivered newspapers, pumped gas and worked in his uncle’s grocery store.

“Most business people started at a lower level in order to get where they are today and I think Junior Achievement lays that groundwork for kids,” he said Wednesday at the second annual Junior Achievement Innovation Challenge at Kent State University Trumbull.

More than 100 middle school students from Trumbull County – Howland, Lordstown, Newton Falls, Champion and Lakeview school districts – spent most of the morning coming up with ideas for a new pizza for Pizza Joe’s. Some ideas included a fajita pizza, a bacon and ham pizza and a margherita pizza with a twist.

Howland’s Chipotle pizza took third place, Lordstown’s Farm House BLT pizza took second place and Lakeview’s Fresh and Fruity pizza took first place.

The three flavors will be put into a limited time production at Pizza Joe’s stores in Trumbull County for a community-wide voting day. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Junior Achievement Innovation Challenge and a student scholarship fund set up at the Trumbull County Educational Service Center, said Michele Merkel, president of Junior Achievement of Mahoning Valley.

Students worked in teams of three and four through six developmental phases: You’re Hired, Know Your Market, Product Development, Perfect Price and Advertising, Presentation Skills and The Pitch. In the first phase, students are hired by Pizza Joe’s to develop their new pizzas. In the second and third phases, students conducted research on Pizza Joe’s and the history of pizza, as well as their target market.

“They survey their peers and ask them what types of toppings they like,” she said. “Because they have to develop a tagline, they’re going to have to look at how companies market and brand their products.”

In the fourth and fifth phases, students had to figure out the cost of making their pizza, how many toppings will be on it and how to develop and present their pitch, Merkel said. In the final phase, students had the opportunity to pitch their ideas to Pizza Joe’s, she said.

While coming up with a product or service idea is a good experience, to actually see the final product come to fruition impacts the students because they feel like they’ve put in the work, Merkel said.

“Junior Achievement really believes in exposing kids as early as possible to many concepts,” she said. “Developing a business plan or pitch and selling that pitch to a business person, a teacher, a parent – you want to be heard. You want your ideas to be taken in and not for granted.”

The Junior Achievement Innovation Challenge helps students, in a step-by-step process, put their thoughts together into a specific plan they’re able to convey in three minutes, Merkel said. When students have all kinds of ideas they’re brainstorming while working in a team, students get exposure to the real world of what businesses have to do every day when they’re working with people, she said.

Katie DeToro, chief marketing officer for Classi-Co Foods, presents to more than 100 Trumbull County middle school students.

“Kids get bored pretty quickly unless they have a video game in front of them or something, but when you give them a challenge, they seem to step up to that challenge and make it work well,” Seminara said. “It’s also good they get to see the underlying activity in operating a business. By learning that, they learn to appreciate a business owner and what he goes through every day to make it work.”

Creating and inspiring young entrepreneurs is a wonderful thing because it sparks excitement and interest at an early age, said Katie DeToro, chief marketing officer for Classi-Co Foods. Students may realize they can own a business and it’s not as hard as they think it may be to come up with a prototype, even if they’re making something at home, she said.

“I think that’s what’s unique about these programs,” DeToro said. “We’re utilizing pizza here, however it could be a new line of clothing, a new cell phone case. Anything that these kids may be thinking up in their young brains.”

Gaining experience from working with customers and different personalities, and learning what it takes to put out a product helps drive students from a young age to understand what path they want to take in business, DeToro said. Whether kids are interested in being doctors, attorneys or going to a trade school, it is all service related, she said.

“No matter what field you’re in, there are going to be ideas and you need to understand how your idea can turn into a reality,” DeToro said.

Part of Pizza Joe’s involvement in the challenge is educating students about companies in the community so they understand there are local opportunities, DeToro said. Hopefully it will inspire them to learn about other businesses in the community, she said.

“The kids need something else to look to other than their basic studies,” Seminara said. “I think they need to expand themselves through challenging efforts like this. Even at a young age, I felt the same way. I thought I was going to own my own business. It was in the family, and being self employed – I don’t think there’s any other way to go.”

Pictured above: Joe Seminara, founder of Pizza Joe’s, joins students from Newton Falls Middle School and Michele Merkel, president, Junior Achievement of Mahoning Valley.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.