By Joe Earle

Atlanta Girls Schools students Miranda Gonzalez-Brown, Jada Curtis and Taylor Vande Beek, left to right in photo at left, shared first place for their business ideas.

Miranda Gonzalez-Brown and Jada Curtis say they know the virtues of shea butter first hand.

“I put it on 100 times a day,” Miranda said.

And Jada, who learned about the stuff from her mom, has been using it since she was younger to condition her hair, soften her skin. She’s a fan.

So when they had to develop an idea for a new business for a class at the Atlanta Girls’ School, they thought of shea butter. It was cheap. They thought it worked wonders. And they loved the stuff. It would be easy to sell.

Soon a business was born, or at least conceived, and then it was studied, outlined and turned into a PowerPoint presentation. They called their new shea butter-based business Natural Selections Body Products. They would create an organic skin care line for the women of Atlanta. They would package shea butter and sell it at crafts markets, such as the Farmers Market in Decatur or the market at Atlantic Station. They figured they could net $1,023 in profits.

On April 15, coincidentally Income Tax Day, 17-year-old Miranda and 18-year-old Jada and four other AGS students presented their business ideas and plans to a pair of outside businesspeople as a sort of final exam for the class. Each would-be business owner had seven minutes to sell her idea and business plan. The class was offered through a grant from Spanx founder Sara Blakely’s Entrepreneurship Academy, so Spanx CEO Laurie Ann Goldman and CFO Brad Bell judged the competition. The winner, chosen by Goldman and Bell, would receive $1,000.

The students presented plans for all sorts of businesses. Selena Makrides wanted to open a gallery for student artists at AGS (net profit: $348). Devin Gooden wanted to provide violin lessons (net profit: $663). Kieva Malachi proposed a combination basketball and etiquette camp for middle-school girls who wanted to play ball and remain ladylike (net profit: $1,159). And Taylor Vande Beek outlined a plan to manufacturer silicon-lined mitts to hold hot hair straighteners so they wouldn’t scorch a girl’s clothes in her suitcase (net profit: $2,080).

Spanx CFO Brad Bell and CEO Laurie Ann Goldman judged the student presentations.

Teacher Joan King said class included discussions of how entrepreneurs find business ideas based on their personal experiences. “Every girl came up with a personal situation that eedles at her, that she could solve,” King said.

That’s what Taylor Vande Beek did.

She knew exactly which problem she wanted to solve. When she straightened her hair, her hair straightener got really hot. And it took a long time to cool. So, when packing the straightener with her clothes in her suitcase, she’d accidentally scorched a couple of her good blouses..

“It freaked me out,” said the 17-year-old, whose neat blond hair is nice and straight.

There had to be a way to protect her clothes and still pack her hair straightener. Soon she devised a solution — the “hair-straightener hot mitt,” a pair of quilted tubes lined with material that could contain the heat of the straightener and protect a perfectly good blouse from ruin. She made the prototype herself. “This is what I wanted,” she said.

It turns out, a lot of her friends needed it, too. In fact, as she presented her business plan in class, she already had orders from AGS administrators and fellow students for the mitts. By the end of class, she had even more orders. “I have about 14 people who want to buy them so far,” she said. “Hopefully, it will take off.”

After the presentations, judges Goldman and Bell headed off to consider which plans seemed the most promising to produce actual businesses. Their verdict? “They were fabulous,” Goldman said later.

They ended up picking two winners. Taylor’s hair-straightener mitt business and Jada and Miranda’s shea butter business. They would split the prize money.

“I was so excited. I was so excited I was shaking,” Taylor said. “I’m still calming down.”

Taylor figured she’d use some of the prize money to buy materials for more mitts to sell. The rest would go to defray college expenses. And once she’s at college, she believes she’ll find an even larger market for her hair-straightener hot mitts.

Miranda and Jada said that along with the cash, they’ll carry away something else from this class. They discovered they liked being businesswomen.

“This class has really opened my eyes,” Jada said. “I discovered a part of myself I didn’t know I had. I didn’t know I could be an economics person, a business person. Now I do. Yes, I do.”

And not just any businesswoman, the partner chimed in. “A very savvy one,” Miranda said.

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