Wednesday 18 March 2015

Student Enterprise 2015

We have been here before in 2013 and 2014 but not quite here because you can't bathe in the same river twice.  Enterprise moves on in waves and the bri'nt idea of 2013 is Old Hat for Fogies two years later.  Last Thursday afternoon, there were some beginning-businesses in the catering trade but they are dropping off the radar in favour of other themes. Though they be a bit retro, I liked two girls from Gaelcholáiste Cheatharlach who are floating their cookie company Blas ['taste'] in the local farmer's markets and by word-of-mouth. They sell sacks of crumble-topping (400g €2.50), brownie mix with added chocolate (€3) and rolls of cookie-dough (€3). That should work. Across the aisle was a chap who was, to my initial confusion, running two businesses Skool Cookies and Zapp. I must have looked particularly dense because he patiently explained that "Skool" hinted at Kool as in trendy and hip. Every night he piles flour, sugar, butter and chocolate chips into the oven and every break-time at school he flogs 3 generous rounds of calories in a paper bag for €1.  I told him that he was under-pricing himself because a standard candy bar was at least 2x 33c but he nay-said me by pointing out the competition in the market. His bottom line is that he has sold €2500 worth of product over the last several months, bought a serious computer to develop Zapp his Android app, and still had €250 left over for product development.

Another product I liked for its understated aesthetic sense was Memory Catcher which captures a young woman's skill at water-colours and adds a personalised touch into a white frame.  The artist paints a branch of cherry-blossom Prunus cerrulata, with or without a life-sized blue-tit Cyanistes caeruleus.  Her hench-team then ask the client for significant dates, events or people, prints these out on white paper hearts and hangs them off the branch with embroidery thread.  The whole thing retails for €25 and would be good value if they could crank up some details of the quality.  But they were adamant that pink hearts or purple framing-mat would definitely not be the thing.  And although it looks hand-painted, in fact your cherry branch is colour photocopied from an original; which is fair enough for the price.

This year's trend seems to be the apotheosis of capitalism [as in Hail Capitalism, I'll sit on my arse and watch the money pile up]. In the old days, teenagers would create something handy and/or mundane with their own hands, using their creative powers to create, manufacture and market the product; and also keep tabs on the margin, profit-and-loss and unit costs.  Weird stuff maybe: gluten-free muffins and purple cookies; bird-tables and boot-removers; painted stones and woven bracelets; cardigans for infants and kneelers for the elderly. There's something wrong with teenagers starting off as middlemen and acting as a mere clearing house for stuff.  Two enterprises last Thursday had essentially the same business model.  There is a regular growny-uppy company, with a shed and some machinery in an industrial park somewhere, that prints T-shirts and another that embroiders a name on the outside of sport shorts.  Now there are two school-based companies whose contribution to the market is to elbow their way between the manufacturer and the customer and turn a profit by so doing. Here's a handy idea: when we were young and at very expensive schools, we used to have Cash's name-tapes on the inside collar or waistband of all our clothes.  Mine were black, the sister's were green: just our names in 3mm high letters: discrete, like, on the inside. Nowadays you wear clothing that makes you look like an advertising hoarding, but if I want to put a name on my kit, and I have the internet, I can find a source. I cannot imagine why I would need four teenagers help me here.  There's barely case for one teenager.  "So you do the embroidery?"  No. "You have a transfer printer and iron the design onto the T-shirt?" Er, no. "What would you say you do here?".  There's a helluva lot of this niche parasitism on the interweb: if you try to find, say,  a dentist in, say, Tramore, you'll get lots of strikes to sites that seem to be less able to to run a Google search than me but affect to be providing a consolidation service.

I'm glad I talked to the cookie-makers first, I wouldn't have stayed to talk to people if they were all just getting in the way providing a service with no goods.  As it was, I caught a full dozen small 'companies' and had an adult conversation with each one - in a couple of cases having to fend off their teachers to do so.  That was good fun. informative and interesting - a good way to wrap up a heavy day's teaching.

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