Heidi VanderSteen, president of Chillax, the Soothing Sack company, along with three colleagues, presented their product to a panel of judges on Thursday in the Pitch It Junior Achievement competition at the Marigold Cultural Centre.
“This is something that I definitely wanted to do to help me plan my future and just give me another stepping stone to the future to help me figure out my life path,” said VanderSteen, 18. “Because it can be kind of scary when you don’t have experience, and with this kind of experience it really gives you security knowing, ‘Yes, I do know how to do all this stuff.”’
The Truro group was among six teams from the Northeast Nova Scotia region who pitched their business ideas to judges Jon Stanfield (president, Standfield’s Canada), Stephanie Jones (owener-operator McDonald’s Restaurants) and Dianne Kelderman (CEO of Nova Scotia Cooperative Council) in a Dragons’ Den-style setting.
Following presentations, judges asked questions to teams that pertained to product cost, marketing and sales, among others.
The Knotty Knotters from Amherst, a business that makes custom friendship bracelets, won the competition to advance to the provincial event next week in Halifax.
VanderSteen said the process and the people she worked closely with during the past month made the event special.
“It was definitely fun and I can’t wait to spend the next few months working with these people,” she said. “Winning or losing, it doesn’t really matter, we really worked hard.”
Members of the Truro team met in mid-October to brainstorm ideas on a product they felt could have real potential in the marketplace. VanderSteen said many ideas were brought to the table, which made the process enjoyable for everyone involved.
“We had a large group of ideas and we narrowed it down to three different ones,” she explained. “We went and did some market research and came back to the table and did some pros and cons and we came up with Soothing Sacks.”
The product made by the Truro group is similar to the popular Magic Bag hot-cold pack.
The handmade sack that soothes aches and pains is made with red rice and comes in a variety of styles, sizes and scents, including peppermint, lavender and lemon.
During their presentation, members of the company, including VanderSteen, Connor Fullerton (VP of human resources), Amy Ackles (VP of finance) and Serena Sodhi (VP of marketing and sales), told judges a major benefit of their product compared to others on the market is that it is more affordable, adding sales could be achieved through local farmers’ markets, trade fairs and the Internet.
“I think it went really good,” VanderSteen said following the presentation. “It was really exciting … I think everyone really brought what they wanted to bring to the table.”
Other companies who participated in the competition were ZZZillow (Elmsdale), Pictou County Proud (Stellarton), Veggie Dome (Oxford) and T Cycling (Parrsboro).
Kelderman feels the competition serves young, local entrepreneurs well.
“I think it’s critically important to them and their leadership development and their skills for the future,” she said. “I think this encourages creative thinking, entrepreneurial thinking and builds their confidence, so I think it’s a terrific experience.”