Micro-Tyco is a month-long entrepreneurial challenge to practice and learn fundamental business practices "in a safe, micro environment."
In the 2014-15 school year a group of about a dozen Grade 6 Rolph Street Public School students took up the challenge, building, marketing and selling a marble maze game they made as an after-school activity.
Students handle the banking, purchase supplies and made all the sales. Combined with other fundraisers, and donations, they raised more than $1,500 and were recognized as the top elementary school outside of the United Kingdom where the program was initiated by The WildHearts Foundation.
Money raised by school and business entrepreneurs is donated through WildHearts to people in developing countries around the world in the form of micro loans to help them form their own businesses, and business training. It's a hand up, says WildHearts' website, not a hand out. Basically, entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs.
It's a win-win-win scenario for the students: they learn business skills, help a worthwhile charity, and have fun competing.
Now in Grade 7 at Westfield and South Ridge Public Schools, guided by Westfield teacher Craig MacDougall, the expanded Tillsonburg group entered the November 2015 competition.
"The same kids as last year, now in Grade 7, plus kids from South Ridge – kids who previously went to South Ridge or Maple Lane," said MacDougall, noting they had about 15 students. "It was a pretty even split."
The project this year was Marshmallow Shooters (blow guns that shoot mini marshmallows up to 20-30 feet), sold at the bazaars they attended.
"They were a big hit, we sold a lot of those at the bazaars," said MacDougall who had tried it as gifts for some of his cousins and nephews the previous Christmas. "They were $8 and came with a little package of mini marshmallows. We sold right out, everything we had.
"The kids were in charge of all the assembly and promotion. They made a video to promote it on the school website and they made a web page to promote it."
The students set up booths at the Down Home Christmas Craft Show and St. Paul's United Church Christmas bazaar, and MacDougall said the students were very thankful to organizers of both events for inviting them.
They also sold some mazes left over from last year.
"We also sold rides on the school elevator," said MacDougall, noting that seemed to be very novel and popular idea.
"A fabulous idea from one of the boys. $2 to ride the elevator and we made hundreds from it."
In total, the Westfield-South Ridge Micro-Tyco team raised just over $1,100. That total was enough to place 3rd in the world for elementary schools – a major accomplishment for the Tillsonburg students.
"I still think we're the only elementary school in Canada doing it. This year we were up against all the UK students and there were probably hundreds of teams. We were really surprised (to finish 3rd)."
Their 3rd-place trophy arrived in February. Valued at $100, MacDougall had to pay $30 customs duty on it.
"The kids were really excited to find out they had won it. Last year they had watched videos of what some of the UK schools did, and maybe thought they were unbeatable. The more it's done year after year, the harder it is to get support. That's probably what happened in the UK. So we tried to shake it, do something different."
When the students graduate into Grade 8, they will be eligible – and willing – to try it one more time.
"I think so," said MacDougall. "I think all these kids would do it again. Every one of them, when they were asked to do it this year, they all said yes. I think they really see the value of it. A solid group of kids, and the new ones on-board this year fit right in."