Barnum students earn top honors in business competition

The pair were honored for their plan to help a small entrepreneur expand their customer base and spend more time with their family.

Barnum sophomores Kate Ferrin (left) and Ava Gran placed first in the nation in the Business Professionals of America Small Business Management Team competition earlier this month. (Jamey Malcomb /

Late in the evening Wednesday, May 5, Barnum sophomore Ava Gran got a call with some good news.

Gran and fellow sophomore Kate Ferrin had presented at the Business Professionals of America (BPA) national competition earlier in the day and the call was notifying Gran they were one of 12 finalists in the Small Business Management Team category.

Gran was both excited and nervous because she and Ferrin would have to present again later Thursday, May 6, and they only had a few hours to prepare.

“I found out we were finalists at midnight and I freaked out,” Gran said. “I called (Ferrin) like eight times but I couldn’t get her to wake up.”

BPA is a national career and technical organization where students participate and compete in business-related events, according to Barnum business teacher Kelly Bonitz. In the event, the girls were provided a fictitious case study about a struggling photographer who wants to expand her business as well as spend more time with their family.


Beginning in October, Gran and Ferrin began formulating three goals to begin improving the business with Bonitz acting as an adviser. Almost as soon as they got started, though, COVID-19 cases in Minnesota began spiraling out of control and sent schools throughout the area back to distance learning. About once a week, Bonitz would meet with the students for a couple of hours to hone and refine their ideas.


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Their final goals included hiring an assistant to help with the business; creating a pricing system to add more structure; and increasing the photographer’s social media presence.
The girls then presented their ideas through a recorded video for the regional and state competitions, which was held virtually because of the pandemic. The project finished third at the state competition, which qualified it to move on to the next stage.

After each presentation, Bonitz and her students continued to refine and modify the project for the next presentation. Following their video presentation at the national competition May 4, Gran and Ferrin had to prepare for a live presentation to a judge.

“This is my first year of BPA and because of COVID and everything, this was my first time presenting live in front of a judge,” Ferrin said. “I had never done that before and I was so nervous.”

Bonitz said the girls spent “hours and hours” on video calls hammering out their ideas and improving their presentation.

“They just slowly started building upon it and making it better until it became what it is now,” Bonitz said. “It’s a super amazing project, they’ve done really well with what they were given. Their ideas were amazing — very sophisticated, professional ideas for an actual business.”

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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