Alec Chinnery, a 17-year-old junior at South Whidbey High School, may be better suited than most to help his team win the first-ever student entrepreneur challenge.
Sponsored by the Island County Economic Development Council, the competition pits nine teams of between three and five students against each other, and includes writing a business plan, recruiting investors, and selling a product or offering sevices for one week. The competition began on Monday and will conclude on Nov. 22.
The team with the highest profit at the end of the week will receive a scholarship of $250.
Because Chinnery already owns his own landscaping business, Chinnery Landscaping & Services in Langley, Chinnery has a profitable base to work from. South Whidbey’s team includes Shannon Lux, Jake Delaney and Tesla Dussault. The group is being mentored by Traci Winn, a personal and commercial lines agent at Porter Whidbey Insurance.
Chinnery has already pledged that if his team wins, 30 percent of the scholarship money will be donated to the South Whidbey High School band. Chinnery plays the French horn and trumpet for the band.
“Alec has been the controlling force I would say,” Winn said. “He’s just a really amazing kid. He’s going to go a long way in life.”
The competing teams include seven students from Oak Harbor, one from Camano, and one from South Whidbey. Ideas from the teams range from landscaping, selling candy or candles, baking and catering to photographing senior portraits.
Winn said her roles as a mentor include helping keep the students on track with their goals and ensuring that their ideas are not too “outlandish.”
“I told them one really big thing is to make sure you’re calling your customers and thinking outside the box,” Winn said.
Because business is generally slow during the winter for landscapers, Winn suggested that the team make the sales now, and then follow-up on barking the customers’ landscapes later in the year.
“If this goes well, they can actually work with the EDC and have a viable business to carry on after this, which is really exciting to them,” Winn said.
The challenge’s director, Sami Postma, came up with the idea in an effort to become more involved with students at local high schools.
“Those who have come from here and want to stay here are going to create businesses that are going to help the community more than somebody else,” Postma said. “In trying to think of ways that we could get the kids involved in business while still having fun with it, I started coming up with this competition where they actually get to run their own business for a while.”
Chinnery said he started his business because it was difficult finding work over the summertime. He also prefers to be his own boss.
“I’m more of the kind of guy who likes to lead himself,” Chinnery said. “I don’t like taking orders from somebody necessarily.”
Operating out of his 1989 Ford Bronco, Chinnery usually attaches a trailer to carry all his supplies, which includes a riding lawnmower, two push mowers, two weed whackers, a chainsaw and hedge trimmers.
“It’s just gotten to this point where it’s a really successful company,” Chinnery said.
Chinnery hopes to expand his company if his group wins, which may include new equipment, a new trailer, and possibly a new truck.