Although it did not capture first place in the National Secondary School Entrepreneurship Competition (NSSEC), Cowen Hamilton Secondary School is happy for its success.
The Moruga school copped the runners-up position and relished the long-awaited achievement, having competed twice before and not performing as hoped. In 2018, it placed tenth and in 2017, 50th.
The prizes included 30 per cent scholarship financing, $2,500 in cash and gift coupons, as well as special prizes for the most dedicated school and most dedicated student, Mya Samuel.
NSSEC is a competition targeting secondary school students using a simulation called Marketplace Live that brings the business world into the classroom. The competition is in its third year and was conducted over a six-week period in entrepreneurship training.
Students were given the opportunity to work with a business idea that would flourish into a successful entity; making sure to include the key components of financial performance, investment, human resource management, marketing effectiveness, manufacturing efficiency, market performance, wealth and asset management and financial risk.
The task was to manufacture and sell bicycles for recreational purposes, mountain cycling and speeding riding. As the competition progressed changes to consumer target markets were uploaded and the teams had to restructure their marketing plans to capture the intended customer.
Leading the group of form six students was one of their teachers, Marsha Singh who said their hard work finally paid off as they had one of the best proposals.
The English language and literature teacher said entering NSSEC was a learning opportunity for everyone who participated.
"We went into the competition not knowing what to expect but we went in with an open concept to learn and to make the best of the opportunity."
The five students — Sarah Ali, 18; Mya Samuel, 16; Anjaili Christopher, 17; Chris Ramdeen, 17 and Matthew McDowell 17 — said it was difficult, but they pulled through. The thrill has not worn off yet, they said.
McDowell, a non-business student, said it was a bit intimidating competing against some schools and they often wondered if they would make it to the end.
"When we saw some schools staying at the top of the rankings for so long, we started to doubt ourselves. But determination, and I believe more than anything, a willingness to learn helped us to make it to the end."
After the competition, the students agreed they are now more knowledgeable about the basic components of running a business and the possibility of being an entrepreneur. Ali, Christopher and McDowell previously thought about having businesses but were deterred because of a lack of knowledge. There is now renewed hope of owning their own businesses, they said.
Ali would like to own an art gallery. She explained her passion is in art and understands the trouble young artists face in finding a forum to display their creativity.
"I would like to merge my passion for art and new-found interest in entrepreneurship to create a space that provides opportunities for young, talented artists to highlight their work."
Christopher already has plans to get into real estate and said her idea is to create safe and affordable housing.
McDowell hopes to become a pilot and own a flight school. He has other ideas as well, but said they still need to be thrashed out properly.
The other members of the team are still at crossroads in deciding if entrepreneurship is in their future but are certain that they will pursue careers in economics.
The team noted that there is much more to learn in areas such as financing, advertising, marketing, technology, leadership and human resource management, and plan on pursuing this in the future through their tertiary studies.
Ramdeen assisted Singh with the responsibility of leading the team, and said any successful organisation depends on teamwork and a democratic decision-making process.
“We always consulted each other before decisions were made. Where someone missed a point on something, there was always someone else to pick up the slack.
"This is why it is always important to have a dependable team to ensure the success of a company," he said.
Learning about risks and capitalising on the decisions were tough, McDowell added, but the mistakes they made afforded the much-needed knowledge to know what to look out for in the future.
The students spent many hours doing research, in addition to their normal school schedule and daily routines.
Christopher said while it seemed as though it was impossible to manage, there is much appreciation for the practicality of the competition which can now be integrated into future theoretical frameworks of their academics.
"It has given me a better understanding of how to run a business, the demands of consumers, how to make profits and the dos and don'ts in accounting," she said.
Singh said as a teacher who had no previous knowledge in business management, the experience has given her a greater appreciation for business owners and the work that has to be put out for the successful operation of any type of business whether small, medium or large.
She said entrepreneurship studies should be introduced at an earlier stage in the secondary school system.
"Besides the theoretical and practical knowledge that it offers, it also assists with communications skills, teamwork and development of critical-thinking skills.
"Introducing entrepreneurship at the form three level where students are at the point of choosing their subjects for Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) would help them make better career choices."
Principal Natalie Small said the students' success has sparked an interest within the school population about entrepreneurship and how it can be used for advancement in income generation and standard of living.
"Entrepreneurship is critical to the development of our nation. For far too long we have educated people toward working for someone else.
"Entrepreneurship gives people a chance to bring their creativity to the fore. It provides a boost in an individual's confidence, it builds a family and community and it builds jobs, generates wealth and brings about nation building," Small said.
The team, she said, will find creative and fun ways to pass on the information it gained to the rest of the student population.
This year’s NSSEC saw over 700 students and teachers participates in over 6,000 hours of training, research and entrepreneurship development.
Baptist missionary history
Cowen Hamilton Secondary School was established in 1962 at Fifth Company, Moruga Road, Moruga as a private secondary school by the Baptist Church Council (BCC), now known as the Baptist Union Executive Council (BUEC).
To establish secondary education in the rural community, Rev W Cranston Bell, a missionary, willingly gave the ground floor of his home at Kern Bungalow to be used and the space was refurbished to form two rooms which accommodated about 30 students each.
The initial vision for the school was to afford secondary education in the community as the economic struggles of the time prevented many people from accessing schooling that was available in urban areas.
After an entrance examination in 1961 almost 110 students were eligible for entry into secondary school, of which 37 were enrolled for the first time at Cowen Hamilton. In July of the same academic year, another examination was held, in which there were 29 entrants. The school had three members on staff – two teachers and a janitor.
The school was maintained by a small term fee of $16, in which furniture, equipment and salaries were paid. The principal was compensated under missionary terms and the teacher volunteered but was eventually given a travel allowance as the school developed.
The school was named after Will Hamilton, a Baptist spiritual leader, who settled in Trinidad after serving in the British forces in America during its struggle for independence; and George Cowen, an English missionary, who was posted in Trinidad after he was ordained a minister.
Between 1962 and 1995, the school population grew to 300 students and underwent many infrastructural changes. British Petroleum Trinidad contributed to the school's physical expansion, when it donated a bungalow that accommodated an additional 100 students, bringing the total housed to 400 students.
Fast forward to the recent decade during which Cowen Hamilton gained a number achievements including academic scholarships, first place in the School Media Project Radio division (2008), first place at the IStructE/APETT Young Structural Engineers Design and Build Competition (2010), second place in ACTT’s 4th National Quiz (2016), among others.