FOUR Cork Transition Year students are using their business acumen for a good cause, with their Student Enterprise mini-company: a board game that aims to help youngsters discuss mental health.
Sláinte na nÓg is the mini-company project of Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh students Cathal Ring from Blarney, Matthew Coffey from Bishopstown, Thomas White from Ballincollig, and Cian Spicer from Ballincollig.
Under the watchful gaze of their mini-company co-ordinator, business studies teacher Anthony Malone, the four 16-year-olds have developed the board game to a prototype stage and are ready to take it to the Cork Finals for the Student Enterprise awards in UCC tomorrow.
“Mental health is such a big problem in Ireland at the moment; there’s not one person who doesn’t know someone that’s not been affected by suicide and it seems to just be growing and growing,” says Sláinte na nÓg CEO Cathal Ring.
“A lot of mini-companies would come up with ideas where they just ship something in and sell it on, but we found that boring and we wanted to do something that helped a problem.”
Targeted at children from fourth class to first year, the idea is that by teaching children to open up on mental health issues and raise awareness from a young age, the game will help youngsters to develop the tools for natural resilience in the face of any adversity or stresses they may face.
“Fourth class is when things like popularity, bullying, gossip all start to become important, but we’re also bringing it in for first years because the transition they have to make into secondary school can be a source of stress itself,” Cathal says.
“But if they learn the skills to talk at a young age they’ll have them for the rest of their lives.”
“This isn’t going to stop problems with mental health, but we think it’s a tool that kids can use to get them talking about their mental health,” Cathal says.
“It’s really just about teaching them that it’s OK to have these thoughts in your head and that you can talk about it, that you can overcome them and learn how to deal with them.”
The mini-company is very ambitious; all four students have a keen interest in careers in business and want to see their product move beyond the development stage and go on sale.
“We want to see our game in every school in the country,” says Cathal. “We’re still trying to find avenues that we can go down, through the Department of Education or the HSE, that they would put it into schools.”
Sláinte na nÓg has been trialled on first year students in Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh and Marketing Manager Cian Spicer says the feedback has been positive.
The board game is based on moving a piece around the board, answering questions in order to roll the dice and move on. The questions on the game cards have been formulated with the help of mental health professionals.
“The professionals we’ve been talking to said that something like this is needed because there’s nothing like it,” Cian says. “but obviously these are sensitive topics and we’re not professionals; we don’t know what may be too sensitive and what we can and can’t be asked, so we had advice with the questions.”
Deputy CEO Matthew Coffey explains how the game was devised as Cian produces an earlier, hand-drawn prototype — the game has been through several stages of development.
“We worked on the design of this board for months to get it just right,” Matthew says. “At the start it was pretty much straight around; this is the board we had in December. You can see that we’ve introduced a lot of other features.”
The game is designed to mimic the highs and lows of life; players can progress by doing things known to be good for mental health, like going for a walk. It’s also riddled with hidden metaphors; the last four steps to the finish line are literally ‘one step at a time’, as other players gain the opportunity to catch up on the winner.
Sláinte na nÓg will represent Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh at the Cork finals of the Schools Enterprise Programme at UCC tomorrow.
A total of 15 mini-companies are taking part in the event, all developed by Transition Year pupils from a number of schools across the city.
Established by the Local Enterprise Office Cork City, the Schools Enterprise Programme gives students a real opportunity to experience first hand how a business is set up and developed. The national final will take place in Croke Park in Dublin on May 3.
The students at the Bishopstown school are optimistic about their chances of making it through to the national final of the competition, although the time and care they have spent in developing their product may conversely turn out to be more of a barrier to success than an advantage:
“The aim of the competition is sales-driven,” Matthew says. “Down the line, we see ourselves making a lot of sales, but there are other companies competing that started selling something straight away, where we had to do a lot of work to get to this stage.”
The company’s Legal Manager, Thomas White, is in charge of handling all the documentation for the project, which is no mean feat: “Throughout the year, we’ve been making our business plan and our marketing plan and doing questionnaires,” he says.
Learning to communicate and make approaches to other businesses is just one of the many ways that the team feel that their project is benefiting them; they reached out to logistics and tech firm Flextronics, who offered them the assistance of graphic designer Oisín Dineen for the final design of the game.
“We started off just trying to get through the competition but now I think it’s become much more than that for all of us,” Cathal Ring says.
“With all the positive feedback we’ve been getting from it, we think that we can continue it after fourth year and really get it out there.”
“We’re doing our Transition Year work experience at the moment, but actually this is the best work experience you could get, because you’re actually running your own company. We’ve learnt so many things about how to properly approach someone, or portray what you’re thinking.”
TY.ie is a website set up by students from Colaiste an Spioraid Naoimh, who developed a platform to make it easier for teenagers to find work experience placements.
Work experience is part of the Transition Year curriculum in schools to give students a taste of a working environment, as well as learning some skills during their placement.
Following a survey of previous experiences in the workplace, the founders of TY.ie recognised that many students felt their time during the placement was of no benefit. Leon Keating from the company explained: “A lot of places are only getting students to go on coffee runs or do some photocopying, so we’re trying to find places who will actually give students a better learning experience.” The website has a facility for students to review the place of work they attended, giving future students access to a bank of potential work placements, as well as enable them to choose a company that would be suitable for them.
From St. Aloysius Girl’s School, Sinead McKeown is a director of the mini-company, Acacia, specialising in all natural cosmetics in addition to hand-crafted jewelry. For its cosmetics, Acacia uses raw ingredients to make cleansers, toners and face masks. There are no additives or preservatives in any of their recipes.
“All our products are 100% natural and everything we make is done in the kitchen. Blenders are perfect for extracting the juice from the vegetables and fruit we use.” Sinead explained.
“We researched all the ingredients online as in what might work on the skin and what to avoid. For instance we have a honey and lemon cleanser. We were concerned that the lemon might be too acidic, but in actual fact, it’s very good for the skin and particularly the face.
“We also have an aloe vera toner, which is well know in the cosmetics industry and widely used as an aftersun treatment for sun burnt skin. We give it our own twist by adding rose water and cucumber juice.” As well as making their own products, part of the creative is choosing the packaging. Upcycling is a way of doing this using bottles and small tubs from travel sets, which are sterilised beforehand.
Acacia was initially set up as their transition year Schools Enterprise project, however Sinead and her fellow students can see the potential of expanding their business outside of school.
“Originally when we took on the mini-company project, we did it as part of the course, but since we’ve had quite a bit of interest in our products, we’re thinking of keeping it on for a while at least and expanding to moisturisers.” As well as developing more cosmetic products, Acacia are thinking of joining up with another mini company at the school with the idea of producing handbag sets containing their cosmetics.
Hoping to expand their self grooming market, the mini-company is determined to think outside the box and not limit themselves to one idea.
Ear To Stay is a mini-company set up by students from Scoil Mhuire in Bishopstown. Seeing a gap in the market, the students began selling special covers for Apple ear phones to keep the ear piece in place.
Company director, Emily Fulton explained: “There are loads of ear phones on the market, most of which fall out of your ears very easily, even those that hook around the outside of your ear are quite cumbersome and uncomfortable and inevitably slip.
“We wanted to introduce an ear phone that guaranteed staying in place, as well as sitting comfortably in your ear, whether you’re out running or some other activity.
“We did a lot of research to find out if there was such a product out there that addressed these issues and eventually discovered a supplier of earphones, which contained little hooks that grip the inside of the ear, keeping the earphone in place without being uncomfortable. It was also translucent, which made it very discreet to wear as well.” Asked who came up with the name, Emily revealed it was her mother!
“We were driving one day and I asked my mum if she could come up with some sort of pun. She suddenly came up with Ear to Stay and I really wasn’t sure I liked it!
“However, after much brainstorming, my friends and I decided it worked really well after all. It has a good ring to it and is easily remembered.
“We’ve since bought the name eartostay.com and are hoping to get orders through the website once it’s set up.” Inspired by her recent visit to the OtterBox offices, when Ear to Stay took part in their first director’s day hosted by the Cork-based company, Emily’s outlook is long term.
“My goal in life is to do business. This Transition Year is just the start for me. There has been great advice from teachers, as well as the local enterprise office and then the amazing opportunity to visit OtterBox and see first hand how a global company works.
“For me it really isn’t a short term thing, if we can expand and keep going, really get into it, that’s the whole point; when the Transition Year finishes, we are not going to be shut for business.”