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MERRILLVILLE — Like an episode of TV's "Shark Tank," groups of Andrean High School student entrepreneurial hopefuls walked into the tank recently to sell their product.

One group made cookies using Grandma's secret recipe, another made a convenient snack of chips and dip, while a third group transformed Oreo cookies into a new delicious treat.

Three teachers sat in the back of the classroom posing as "sharks," those tough, self-made, multimillionaire tycoons.

Andrean U.S. history teacher Jaycob Knazur acted as if he were "Mr. Wonderful," or Kevin O'Leary, posing tough questions and making the class assignment as realistic as the reality television show where the TV sharks invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in new businesses for people from all walks of life chasing the American dream.

The setting was on the school's first floor in Andrean economics teacher Eric Arcella's classroom. The assignment was for students to partner and develop a business idea, including staffing needs, sales and marketing approach and start-up financing.

At the start of the week-long project, Arcella told his students when a new business is created, owners need to look at the competition in the market. When there is high competition among businesses selling the same product, there are three ways in which a company can stand out from its competitors — price, service and quality.

Arcella told students they'd have three minutes to pitch their product.

Devil is in the (business) details

Seniors Ayanna Diaz, Kaitlynn Schmick, Katherine Dravat and Helena Lasky created something called "Snack on the Side," which featured a variety of different chips and dip in a convenient and easy-to-open package.

The group asked the "sharks" to invest $5,000 for 40 percent of the profit.

The four teens passed out samples of their snack to the sharks for a taste test just as entrepreneurs do on the reality show and responded to sharks' questions about the business. The girls agreed to a deal of $3,800 for 49 percent of their company.

Diaz said they didn't get as much as they wanted.

"We were well prepared. We've all seen 'Shark Tank' on television. I think what we learned from this is that if we actually go into business, we'd think about how to set it up and operate it," Diaz said.

"We also learned about profit and loss. Some of the most difficult questions came from Mr. Knazur. He always asks tough questions. We also learned a lot about organization."

Lasky said she learned about how much it can cost to put together a snack and produce a multitude of them. "It was a good learning experience," she said.

Another team of seniors, Cheyanne Johnson, Justin Novales, Tre Gibson and Jared Humphrey, turned Oreo cookies into a new dessert by mixing it with whipped cream to make it a pudding-style dessert. They called it "Ole Ole Oreos," and asked for $500 for a 10 percent stake in their company.

The group was disappointed they didn't get an offer from the sharks.

Johnson said there were some areas they should have concentrated on.

"We got a lot of comments from the sharks and it made us think," she said. "The marketing cost wasn't high enough. I learned that organization is very important. If we did this again, I'd change some things."

Humphrey said they should have planned better and responded to the questions from the sharks better.

Another group, which created a company called "Granny's Kitchen," specializing in peach cobblers, asked for $12,900 for a 15 percent stake in the business. The teens settled for $6,000 for a 30 percent stake. 

In a packet to students, Arcella told students to be prepared to explain what's unique about the product, the projected sales numbers, the price, how much it costs to make each product, how the product will be distributed and who is the target market.

Arcella said he wanted students to learn that it's not easy to start and operate a business. "Entrepreneurs have to analyze the cost of a business and not every business will succeed," he said.


Education reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.