Over the course of the last few months, several Parker Avery team members devoted their time, skills, enthusiasm, and energy to a project that will directly impact the lives of six young Jamaican entrepreneurs and the community of Chapelton, Jamaica. Sparked by Parker Avery’s relationship with the Retail Orphan Initiative (RetailROI), our team built and delivered an intensive, five-week course to teach these six enterprising businesspeople how to develop and present a full business plan. We aspiringly named this effort the “JEDI Challenge” (Jamaican Entrepreneurs Delivering Innovation).
The JEDIs ranged from ages 17 to early 20’s, and their businesses included a social shopping platform, a poultry farm, a cosmetics company, a bakery, a children’s home, and a lip balm company. As we went through the course, the diversity of businesses and personalities among the JEDIs was truly enjoyable to watch unfold. Further, their collective attention to the course material and homework requirements was impressive. But even more impressive was the resilience these six young people exhibited to persevere through constant connectivity issues, house fires, and electricity blackouts (among other issues that would make many young people want to just give up).
As I mentioned, the course was intense. We met twice a week at night for five straight weeks (remotely), and we gave them a lot of homework. And we weren’t easy on the JEDIs. Our team of instructors (the “JEDI Council”) gave them honest, constructive criticism, which the JEDIs took with grace, and we encouraged each of these young entrepreneurs to speak up during class.
The class culminated in the sixth week, where each JEDI was given 45 minutes to present their business plan to a panel of judges, which included Greg Buzek, founder of RetailROI, along with members of the Parker Avery team. We patterned the format of these presentations after the show “Shark Tank,” but eliminated the equity stake (and the snarky commentary), and we simply awarded funding to help start or grow the businesses.
After scoring the JEDIs based on pre-defined criteria and discussing the results—very similar to our approach to system selection projects—the judges determined the first place JEDI: a once shy, insecure teenager who developed her own skin care line in the spirit of boosting the confidence of individuals, while promoting self-love and the appreciation for natural beauty. Not only did this 18-year-old complete every homework assignment on time and completely, but her confidence and energy during her final presentation was absolutely captivating.
It would be an understatement to say the Parker Avery JEDI Council is grateful for the opportunity to get to know these six young entrepreneurs. There were several moments throughout the final presentations where I am certain there was not a dry eye behind any screen. I am personally grateful to work for a company that not only supported this initiative financially, but also had a team of consultants who worked as tirelessly on this volunteer initiative as they would on a client project. The effort and enthusiasm that our JEDI Council put forward to make this project a success was nothing short of awesome, and I couldn’t be prouder and more appreciative of this firm.