MANKATO — There are a lot of ups and downs to starting your own company, as business instructor Mary Berg's high school students now know well.

The Mankato East students experienced the trials and tribulations of launching their own enterprises this semester during Berg's Intro to Business course. The entire class participated in a program recently introduced by Junior Achievement, a nonprofit dedicated to providing financial literacy, college and career readiness and entrepreneurship education to K-12 students throughout the Midwest.

Berg's students came up with business plan, found investors, launched their own product line and, at the end of the semester, will liquidate their assets. One of the companies, called Kato Kups, will be selling double-walled water bottles. The other, Xcaliber, is producing personalized cellphone cases.

“It's shown us how to take risks and what risks to take,” said Austin Reeves, a member of the Xcaliber team.

It's also taught them what kind of skills a successful entrepreneur needs to accumulate.

“A good entrepreneur knows what to expect,” he said. “They have to be ready for anything.”

Xcaliber has teamed up with Mankato-based Taylor Corp to produce its line of cellphone cases, Reeves said. The student-run business takes advantage of e-commerce to achieve a global reach and once it launches its website, people will be able to use personal pictures and snapshots to design their own cellphone cases.

Taylor Corp will print the images and afix them to the plastic and rubber shells so they can be shipped to Xcaliber's customers.

Reeves said though cellphone cases are sold all over Mankato, they lack that personal touch. And some of the most durable ones are, for lack of a better word, ugly.

“A lot of times when people break their phone, it's not because they don't have a cellphone case,” he said. “It's because they took it off because they like the way the phone looked better without it.”

Xcaliber will sell a heavy-duty version of the cases, guaranteed to help protect phones when dropped.

“You just pay for the phone case and the cost of shipping,” said Morgan Sweeney, also a member of Xcaliber.

The second student-run business, Kato Kups, has five separate investors. The company took some time to get off the ground, said Mankato East junior Sam Gruis. The hardest part of project so far has been finding motivation.

“After some people realized it's a lot of hard work … a lot of us shut down,” he said, adding that since putting together its initial business plan, the team has gained some momentum.

Kato Kups consists of ninth- through 11th-graders, plus one senior. It will sell its light-blue, double-walled water bottles, capable of holding both hot and cold liquids, around Mankato East.

A portion of its profits will be donated to the Kiwanis Club's holiday light show. Though the team has struggled, the project has still been an interesting experience, said senior Brianna Jensen.

“It's really fun to choose a product and decide what you want to sell,” she said.

Berg, the students' teacher, said the program teaches teens about the realities of starting their own companies. Instead of learning about business more passively, they've actively participated in sales, management, business communications, supply chain management and more.

“Instead of reading out of the textbook about how to manage and finance a company, they're doing it,” she said.

The students will compete for Junior Achievement Company of the Year April 22 at the Carlson School of Management in Minneapolis. Kato Public Charter School is also part of the program and has launched its own student-run business. 

Jaci Sprauge, Junior Achievement district manager, said if the students choose, they can continue to run the companies once the class concludes. The nonprofit provides them the tools and business contacts they need to succeed.

Junior Achievement also offers a variety of after-school and weekend programming, she added. This summer it will host its first high school entrepreneur summer camp, in cooperation with Minnesota State University. Called Start It Up! It is a residential camp for students in grades 9-12 who want to develop their entrepreneurial skills and aspirations.

The camp is June 21-26 at MSU and costs $350. Scholarships are available. Those interested may apply online at or call 507-387-9609 for more information.

Follow @MFPJessicaBies on Twitter. 

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Jessica here, doing some coffee-fueled reporting for the Mankato Free Press. My beat? Education, colleges, LEARNING. Feel free to contact me with questions, comments and story ideas.

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