From left, Jenna Kahn, Jan Berland, Matthew Kurzweil, Alison Shutzberg and Bilal Gutu at the National Competition.
From left, Jenna Kahn, Jan Berland, Matthew Kurzweil, Alison Shutzberg and Bilal Gutu at the National Competition.

Junior Achievement of Atlanta, which is headquartered in Sandy Springs, teaches high school students the fundamentals of running businesses.

This year, students in that club showed their mastery of the subject in a national competition.

This past summer, teenagers from the Atlanta area won the National Junior Achievement Company of the Year Competition for starting up a business that sells customizable coasters.

The appropriately-named Custom Coasters was founded by 15 teens from area high schools. Students from North Springs Charter High School, The Weber School, Riverwood International Charter School, The Galloway School, W.D Mohammed Schools and Pace Academy each had representatives in the winning company.

Leonard Shutzberg, a volunteer advisor for Junior Achievement and CEO of Americo Manufacturing Co., said there was something special about this year’s team.

“They were all sophomores, up against juniors and seniors,” Shutzberg said. “They knew they had a great company.”

Shutzberg’s daughter, Alison Shutzberg, was a Custom Coasters executive who was on the team that represented Atlanta in the Junior Achievement competition. She is now a junior at North Springs High School. Other representatives were: Bilal Gutu, now a junior at North Springs High School; Jan Berland, now a junior at Riverwood High School; Matthew Kurzweil, now a junior at The Weber School; Jenna Kahn, now a junior at The Weber School.

Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus is a supporter of Atlanta’s Junior Achievement program and a member of the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame. Shutzberg said he was in the program in high school.

“The experience that these kids get is they start off as naïve ninth graders and when they leave, they are confident,” Shutzberg said. “They learn about presentation, about management and leadership, and how to overcome obstacles. These are real-life scenarios. These are not make believe.”

Shutzberg said in the Junior Achievement program, students learn about running a business from beginning to end. They also pick up other skills along the way like budgeting and making presentations.

“They’re put in a room with 15 to 20 kids they don’t know, and then they have to form a company and come up with a name,” he said. “They decide on a product or service they want to sell. They spend four months running the company. Then after that, they liquidate the company. They write a report and pay a dividend.”

Custom Coasters is a website that sells coasters with custom designs and logos.

“A customer would prepay $15 and submit via the website a digital image,” Shutzberg said. “They would have nine produced, but only eight were in the set. They would keep one as a sample they would show. They figured out they didn’t need to raise a lot of capital because they didn’t need to raise a lot of money. They sold $6,000 worth of coasters in four months.”

It was a good deal for investors, too, he said. A $5 investment returned a dividend of $86.

Members of this year’s team said the experience taught them skills that can apply to other areas of life outside of a corporate board room.

“I learned to overcome my fear of stage fright, and in the process learned to be a better leader and better public speaker,” Gutu said.

Others said they appreciated learning the challenges – and rewards – of running a business.

“The thing I liked most about the whole Junior Achievement Experience was learning what it takes to create and run a successful business,” Kahn said. “Coming in to Junior Achievement as a complete beginner, I had absolutely no idea how much effort, risk, and work it took to make a business. When I finished this year, I looked back and realized how much I had learned, and I enjoyed each part of it.”

For Alison Shutzberg, the joy came from the growth and personal development of her teammates.

“The most enjoyable part of this experience was seeing my teammates grow and improve immensely throughout the year,” Alison Shutzberg said. “I am so incredibly proud of how far they have come, and I know we are all thrilled that all of our hard work has finally paid off.”

Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011 - 2014. He is the founder and editor of