Abby Bernard (left)

Abby Bernard (left)

Vernon high school students thrive in Dragons’ Den

Vernon students display entrepreneurial spirit at sixth annual Dragons' Den competition.

Abby Bernard and Mikenna Marshall found themselves all alone on the stage in the Okanagan College cafeteria Wednesday afternoon.

The three runners-up for the Junior Division of the sixth annual Young Entrepreneur Dragons’ Den competition had just been announced, and the duo, creators of Real Retro, a company that makes handmade vintage hats, fascinators and headbands, were the last ones standing.

In a moment of confusion, and perhaps a little overwhelmed by all the excitement, Bernard leaned over to emcee Tamsen Guidi, a member of Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) Okanagan, and whispered: “Tamsen, what does this mean?”

Guidi whispered back: “It means you won.”

Bernard’s shriek of excitement drew good-hearted chuckles from the crowd attending the luncheon awards ceremony and mini-trade fair. Shortly after, they were presented with the $500 first-place award.

Luscious Lips, a company that makes natural lip balms, operated by Brittanie Piazza and Katie Prosak, secured the $300 runner-up prize.

Swirlyo’s frozen yogurt business, operated by  Tally Van de Leest, Lauren Bukowsky and Shaneice Chase took the $200 third-place honours.

Dazzle That Dog, offering customized dog collars, operated by Stephanie Oner and Jaclyn Ostafew, collected $50 Future Shop gift certificates for finishing fourth.

In the Senior division, Plane Jane, owned by Alyssa Ready and Dana Albrecht, pocketed the $1,000 top prize for their line of environmentally friendly beauty products.

The $600 runner-up award went to Sun City Sausages, operated by Curtis Rohl and David Donovan.

Jason Sproule and Ashley Sinclair teamed up to create Phoenix Dragons sleds and were rewarded with $400 and third place.

Fourth place ($50 Future Shop gift certificates) went to Pete Somprasong and Marisa Khemapukpong for their Vernon E-bike business.

Dragons’ Den, presented by CIBC, started with more than 20 teams, and over three stages of business planning and presentations, a judging panel comprising local business owners whittling them down to a final four in each division.

Bernard, who is already showing the signs of networking savvy, says the competition will help her take her company to the next level.

“It’s going to help me expand in so many different ways,” she said. “We looked into different parts of the business that I wouldn’t have looked at before.

“I’ve had so much support from the SIFE team, from the mentors, and all the judges. Their criticism, which may seem hard at times, it’s gonna pay off.”

Real Retro and Vernon E-Bike each won $250 Innovation Awards.

Somprasong and Khemapukpong, both Fulton students originally from Thailand, developed their business plan after realizing a niche in the market. Somprasong bought an e-bike and eventually had to sell it.

“I put the ad online and it was really popular. I thought ‘Hey, Vernon needs E-bikes,’” he smiled.

Somprasong says the skills learned in the Dragons’ Den are easily applicable to all aspects of business.

“We have learned how to connect with people. If we ever start a business, and it doesn’t have to be an e-bike, we will use those skills to get results.”

Barbara Nudd, Okanagan College’s faculty advisor for the competition, is glad to see the awareness towards youth entrepreneurship the competition provides.

“It’s giving the opportunity for the high school students that aren’t necessarily into sports or music, but have a great innovative idea, to create or develop,” said Nudd. “It gives them a platform to be able to do that.

“For the college students (SIFE), they get a chance to mentor these young entrepreneurs. It makes the whole business program become alive for them.”

The competition is a collaborative effort between Okanagan College School of Business, the school district and Community Futures North Okanagan.

Other key sponsors include: AcuTruss Industries, BDO LLP, Boston Pizza, Davidson Lawyers LLP, Kal Tire, City of Vernon and Romei Plummer CA.