Tuesday 17 July 2018

Quick as a flash, the 11-year-old entrepreneurs

Laura Keogh (left) and Julia Dempsey of Killeshin National School show off their Flashbandz
Laura Keogh (left) and Julia Dempsey of Killeshin National School show off their Flashbandz

Laura Lynott

It's not every 11-year-old who can drive a hard business bargain with supermarket magnates and rake in a €2,500 profit for her school.

But Julia Dempsey is one of Ireland's youngest entrepreneurs, so the fact the Carlow schoolgirl waltzed into her local Tesco and cut a tough deal is perhaps no surprise after all.

Julia, along with the rest of fifth class in Killeshin National School, came up with Flashbandz, a flashing safety light for walkers and cyclists.

Thanks to the Junior Entrepreneur Programme (JEP), which supports primary pupils over a 12-week period in starting their own businesses, Julia and her peers are getting to grips with the industry earlier than any other Irish generation.

Julia, chief negotiator for her class, may have been dressed in her school uniform on the day she struck the business deal, but she has all the hallmarks of a businesswoman, according to JEP organisers.

Tesco's Carlow manager Tony Weldon says he has been with the company for 22 years and Julia is the youngest supplier with whom he has ever negotiated,

"I was more than a little taken aback when Julia showed me the brightly coloured armband and set her negotiating terms. She was extremely professional and knew everything about the Flashbandz and how they could be used. Julia was sure the product could save people's lives - she stuck to her guns and wanted it sold at her price," he says.

The entire class was involved in the marketing and design of the product sourced from a Chinese manufacturer.

Local entrepreneurs David Walsh and Niall Kelly, founders of security company Netwatch, helped with sourcing and sales. Julia was even on hand conducting email negotiations with the Chinese supplier.

Julia and her classmates targeted the supermarket chain because they wanted to get word out to a large market.

"A lot of people aren't seen at night-time and you have to be seen because it's very dangerous. High-vis jackets aren't very nice and the bands are easier to put on," she says. Julia explained the project allowed her to "find my skills, like emailing and working with people, so did everyone else in my class".

Teacher Graham Ball says seeing the children participate in the initiative had made him feel "very enthusiastic about my profession and it reminds me sometimes why I'm involved in teaching in the first place. You can make a real, positive difference to some children that will go on and be apart of their lives forever".

The bands retail for €5 and can also be bought online at flash-bandz.com.

Young entrepreneurs have until October 10 to sign up for JEP. More than 40,000 pupils have launched classroom businesses since the scheme was founded by tech entrepreneur Jerry Kennelly in 2010. See juniorentrepreneur.ie.

Irish Independent

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