Baldwin High students' Junior Achievement company succeeds with cell phone accessories
Nick Pantelis gathered bwINK company leaders for a meeting to update staffers on the latest product: a retractable cell phone charger.
Inside a second-floor classroom at Baldwin High School, a group of about 20 students brainstormed ways to bolster sales of the white-and-gold device encrusted with the bwINK company logo, as well as to explore opportunities for networking among some of the region's biggest business leaders.
“Our mission is really to give everybody a brighter future both inside our company and outside our company,” said Pantelis, 17, a Baldwin junior and bwINK president. “The entrepreneurial spirit. You have to get after it.”
bwINK, an after-school, student run Junior Achievement company formed a year ago under the direction of Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania president and CEO Dennis Gilfoyle, began selling its second product in early April.
Retractable cellphone chargers, with iPhone and Android connections, are on sale for $8.
The company, whose name stands for Baldwin-Whitehall Industrious Kids, made its debut in the cellphone accessory industry last year, selling flexible wallets that stick to the back of cellphones for $3. It has sold more than 1,000 cell phone wallets in the last year.
Members of bwINK are following a 13-week business plan through Junior Achievement, with lesson plans and activities that teach them how to start and run a company.
“We start with fundamental lessons of how a company or organization runs and how they themselves fit into the running of a company,” Gilfoyle said.
The students learn about the finances, supply chain, customer service and marketing within a company. Then, they try it themselves.
There are more than 25 JA companies in Western Pennsylvania, yet most do not run longer than one school year, Gilfoyle said.
“This is very unique,” he said.
After seeing the success of bwINK in the last year, which netted a $1,200 profit from $2,000 in sales, students said they wanted to expand the cell phone accessory line this year.
“Everyone has a cell phone,” said Zainob Goawala, 16, a Baldwin junior and bwINK vice president. “We tried to make a product that was appealing to all, but at the same time, the cost of it was affordable to everyone.”
Company leaders said they sought out a common problem among friends and family, then found a product to help address the issue.
“In school, everyone is always asking for a charger, ‘Do you have a charger?'” said Baldwin senior Earl Woodyard, 17, bwINK company vice president. “Well, now we're selling a charger so you can always have a charger.”
With normal cellphone chargers, the wires often get tangled.
“With a purse, you have to dig around for everything. I see my mom do it all the time,” said Baldwin senior Justin Rowlands, 18, company secretary. “We thought, ‘What product could easily solve that problem?' The cell phone wallet is what we came up with. It eliminates the need for messy wallets and messy purses.”
bwINK leaders have sold their products at the Brentwood, Baldwin, Whitehall Chamber of Commerce and attended the 3 Rivers Venture Capital Fair. They plan to sell their products at area malls and on Federal Street before a Pirates game.
For the last two years, employees have volunteered their time so bwINK can net more profits, Pantelis said. The company uses its money to reinvest into new products.
bwINK's mission is to inspire entrepreneurs, Pantelis said.
In school, bwINK leaders have created a commercial that aired in the school and fliers to hang on the walls at school advertising their product.
“There's no better experience than going out and doing it,” said supply chain member Casey Conboy, 16, a Baldwin junior.