The cat’s meow, with an entrepreneurial twist

GTA high school students develop innovative cat condo through Junior Achievement’s Company Program

Their feline friends may be living large, but the owners won’t have to see it that way.

Last November, a group of 26 high school students in the Greater Toronto Area committed to the Cat Stack—a premium cat condo—as part of Junior Achievement Central Ontario’s 18-week Company Program.

By this spring, the team—one of two sponsored by Enbridge Gas Distribution—will have created, managed and liquidated its business, aimed for sales of 30 units, and delivered on its mission statement to give cats a better home.

We really felt like this was an untapped market. We were going for a modern aesthetic, to have the Cat Stack fit a room and act as much like a piece of furniture as a cat playhouse,” says Aires Moura, 17, the president of Cat Stack and a Grade 12 student at Scarborough’s Neil McNeil High School.

“It’s modern, it’s easy to clean, it’s customizable, and it’s compatible in an apartment or smaller living space where you can’t hide a traditional cat tree.”

From November through late February, the Cat Stack team:

  • Consulted with design and marketing experts, including Kris Schantz, whose Happy Worker Toys company created figurines for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver;
  • Developed a series of prototypes, made of foam-board, plywood and acrylic;
  • Opted for a final prototype made of medium-density fibreboard (MDF);
  • Tested its product at Tot the Cat Café;
  • Marketed the product on Rogers TV’s Daytime Toronto program; and
  • Began placing the units, on a consignment basis, in GTA pet stores, including four Pet Valu locations and Wag on the Danforth.

The end result is a three-level cat condo with washable carpet pads, scratching wall, hiding spot, and hanging plush mouse toy for $129.99.

“The members of the team really accepted the challenge to innovate that Junior Achievement put before them,” says Kevin Lee, a process advisor with Enbridge Gas and volunteer mentor for the Cat Stack team.

“In the Company Program world, this is an expensive product. People will only buy it if they truly want it. The students went through a robust production and testing process. And when it came to the consignment process, the team had its share of rejection—four ‘nos’ in one afternoon,” he adds.

“These are all life skills that they’ll take out of the Company Program, and end up applying in university and the workforce. That’s really what Junior Achievement is all about.”

Junior Achievement, an international non-profit organization, works locally with businesses to teach students about entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

Enbridge is committed to enhancing quality of life in the communities where we live and work. Over the years, we’ve supported Junior Achievement programs in southern Ontario, Alberta and Texas, among other locations—through initiatives like JA’s Company Program, in-school programming, and career opportunity events like JA Inspire.

And what did Moura and his associates learn?

“Perseverance is really important. We could have given up on this idea a couple of months ago, but we stuck with it,” he says. “And we also learned that it’s really hard to sell something—even if the product sells itself.”

(TOP PHOTO: Aires Moura, Hazel Waybrant and Johnny Pagiatakis of Cat Stack explain the product during a recent TV appearance on Daytime Toronto.)