The winners of The Lion Foundation Young Enterprise Scheme (YES) were announced last week in Wellington, with a group from Henderson High School taking out the top prize.

Volt Electrics creates sustainable and affordable e-bikes using recycled laptop batteries and bikes that are otherwise destined for the landfill. The company was awarded $3000, as well as a $5000 scholarship for each company member to the Massey University Business School.

The YES programme requires students to create and run a company to help them learn about business and entrepreneurship. Former alumni include Xero CEO Rod Drury, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Give A Little founder Nathalie Whitaker, Kiwibank co-founder & CE Paul Brock and Eat My Lunch founder Lisa King.

Finalists pitched their business cases on Thursday at a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style presentation.

‘The Final Straw’, from St Mary’s College in Wellington, supplies paper straws to the hospitality sector. Unlike other paper straws on the market, their straws will not go soggy, they say.

“There are lots of competitors because it is just straws, but the cheap paper straws that you can get, they just disintegrate or unravel so that’s why we’ve had to really push for our paper straws. They are made with 30% more materials so they’re a lot more sturdy,” the team said during their pitch to the judges.

The team’s next goal is to offer a variety of sizes and look into creating a straw made from sugarcane fibre. The group has already been successful in supplying major players in the sector with their product, including Wellington Hospitality Group, the fastest growing independently-owned hospitality company in the country. One team member has since secured employment with the company which helped them to source the straws.

Thirteen7, from Freyberg High School in Palmerston North, also followed a social enterprise model with their product ‘Pio the whio’ – a bilingual children’s book designed to raise awareness of the endangered bird, while also encouraging the use of te reo Māori.

The team has been working with local schools and businesses to raise awareness of the book and environmental issues.

“Monrad Intermediate came on board with project Pio as well and they now have seven copies of our te reo Māori version. It’s not in their library, it’s actually in their classrooms, they’re learning from it. They’re learning about sustainability, they’re using it for maths, English etcetera,” the team said during their pitch.

The business has been performing well financially, despite setbacks in the beginning of their enterprise.

“We needed 10 units to break even which we completed within the first hour of selling so we were really stoked about that. We estimated what we would sell in the first three months, we said we would sell $3,000. We are now at nearly $9,000 revenue, so for us this was a huge deal.”

In collaboration with Wildbase Rehabilitation Centre, Pio the Whio will be one of the resources in the centre’s educational space. Thirteen7 is also currently in discussions with the Ministry of Education to get the te reo Māori book into the curriculum and is working on a Pio the Whio sequel.

CEO Terry Shubkin says the main goal is to prepare young people to thrive in business and life.

“These students are NZ’s future decision makers and change makers, so we work to educate and excite them about enterprise, and encourage them to play an active part in NZ business now, and in the future,” she says.

“This doesn’t just give them a taste for business and life outside the classroom. These students gain and develop a range of skills through YES such as negotiation skills, people management, public speaking, confidence, ideation, strategic thinking, time management. The list goes on!”

While there have been a few trends over the years, such as smart technology and healthy food alternatives, Roche says the theme which has them “blown away” this year was environmental sustainability.

“It’s brilliant to see the number of YES companies whose products/services are based on the need for better consideration for the environment. For example, this year we’ve got educational books, compostable fruit stickers, eco-friendly shopping bags and biodegradable straws.”

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