PORTLAND, Maine — The room was loud as potential future captains of industry debated the best path to profits, balancing research and development with product pricing, charitable giving with marketing.
Catherine McCauley High School students Tabitha Dupuis, Alexa Dumont and Elisabeth Perkins were focusing on pricing when they were given some advice from one of Maine’s more well-known businessmen, Gov. Paul LePage. He told them not to be afraid of failure, not to shy away from taking risks.
It was advice he’d soon repeat as he addressed all 182 high school students competing in the Junior Achievement of Maine’s annual Titan Challenge on Thursday.
The students were gathered at four locations — the University of Southern Maine in Portland, its Lewiston-Auburn campus, the University of Maine and the Presque Isle Regional Career & Technical Center. They were playing the daylong business strategy game on a shared computer system and were linked together by video.
Most successful businesspeople have several failures under their belt before they make their mark, LePage said.
“Do not worry if you went bankrupt, if you didn’t win,” he said. “The key thing is learning from what you did today. Success comes from eliminating mistakes.”
The competition has increased in popularity yearly. There were double the number of kids involved this year over last, with 60 teams of three students each competing. Each team had a mentor, someone from the business world to aid them.
The competition was run in several rounds, and each team could work on certain business inputs, including unit price, production, marketing, research and development, capital expenditures and charitable giving, said James Kochmar, an insurance broker with Living Wealth Partners LLC and one of the mentors.
“My role is not to give advice, but to ask questions as prompts,” said Kochmar.
Teams from Brewer High School won first and second prizes — $1,000 scholarships for each team member, and $500 for each team member, respectively.
Amy Thomas, president of Junior Achievement of Maine, said the competition started with each member of the team getting a briefing on the benefits and costs of R&D, marketing and charitable giving-investments.
“It’s just a great, hands-on way for them to learn what it takes to run a business,” she said. “We’re trying to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs.”
Jeffrey Gramlich, a business professor at USM and one of the organizers, said the organization was a good parallel to how flat the business world has become. Students from Cape Elizabeth to Presque Isle were competing with one another over the Internet, he said.
Similarly, businesses in Maine compete with counterparts in the Philippines, China or South America. These students can go to college in Maine, start a business here and compete in the global economy, he said.
“They don’t have to leave the state; they can have life the way it should be,” he said.
LePage said that is important — particularly as he approaches retirement age.
“By the time you are in the work force, I will be retired,” LePage told the students, “and I will need you paying tax dollars.”