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Showing off their skills

Brian Barlow, left, Hallie Flanders, Austin Wiles and Jon Ramit, who make up Red Wing High School's SkillsUSA entrepreneurship team, are in Kansas City, Mo., this week competing in the SkillsUSA national competition.

What do you need to know before starting your own business?

Four students from Red Wing High School would be more than willing to answer that question.

Recent graduates Brian Barlow and Hallie Flanders and incoming seniors Jon Ramit and Austin Wiles make up the school's SkillsUSA entrepreneurship team. They spent all last school year researching and constructing a business plan for Barlow's small business Norse Thunder Sound and Lighting.

Now, the students are in Kansas City, Mo., to compete in the SkillsUSA entrepreneurship national competition. The team earned its spot at nationals after taking gold for its business plan at the state competition in Bloomington, Minn., in early April.

"I think they worked together very well," the group's advisor and Red Wing High School teacher Doug Barlow said. Barlow co-advises the group with RWHS teacher Brian Quigley.

SkillsUSA is a national nonprofit that works with high school and college students to help prepare them for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations.

"It's everything from welding to childcare," Doug Barlow said.

The students are just four of more than 15,000 students, teachers and business professionals attending the conference and competition, which began Monday and ends with an awards ceremony Friday evening.

"We're nervous," Flanders said before leaving. "We're going to take as much knowledge as we can for the competition."

The group arrived Monday evening and spent Tuesday attending meetings. Today, they will show off their business prowess when they present their business plan to the judges.

"You're judged on presentation," Doug Barlow said.

To put their business plan together, the students spent plenty of time over the past several months researching successful business strategies.

"We talked to business owners around Red Wing. We talked to business teachers," Flanders said.

The students worked on outlining their business' outlook, everything from pricing to their customer service model.

"Everything that has to do with our business," Brian Barlow said.

"You realize how much goes into an actual business," Flanders added.

Norse Thunder Sound and Lighting is a professional DJ service that Brian Barlow and a couple friends founded in 2011. It provides music and lighting for events around Red Wing. The students said that the fact their business plan outlines a real business -- and not a hypothetical one -- was an advantage at the state competition.

"We won the judges over when we told them it was a real working business," Brian said.

At yesterday's competition, the students gave an oral presentation based on their written business plan. They then answered questions from the judges about how they would overcome typical problems many entrepreneurs face in their first year of business.

And though the students admited they were nervous to go before the national judges, they said they gave it their all.

"This is our first year (competing at nationals). We're still feeling it out and we'll do our best and see what happens," Brian Barlow said.

"No, I mean, we're going to take first," he added quickly with a laugh.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.