OMS student wins YEA with hunting vest
By Morgan Bryce
Opelika’s Hunter Weston may seem like a typical eighth grader. He enjoys baseball, hunting and spending time with family and friends. However, his former class-project idea has turned into a potentially impactful hunting product that will place him as one of the top entrepreneurial minds in the country.
Weston’s invention is a hunting vest with cooling packs woven into the vest, which is designed to keep fresh meat cool and clean. Designed specifically for dove and quail hunters in mind, the product was created as a result of an experience he and his stepfather had while hunting a couple of years ago served as inspiration for the idea.
“One day, my stepdad and I were out quail hunting, and we had reached the kill limit for the day. Our game started spoiling because the weather was so hot, and after we left for the day, me and my stepdad agreed that having something small and already cool was better than having to lug around a big ole cooler,” Weston said.
The opportunity for this idea to become a reality was made possible through a business-type class Weston took at Opelika Middle School associated with the Young Entrepreneurs Across America organization.
Clarinda Jones, a teacher at Opelika Middle School, helped start the class as an after-school program in 2014. However, OMS turned it into a regular class because of the large numbers of interested students and the positive feedback the school heard from parents and students alike.
“The purpose of the class is to have students, in an 18-week time frame, come up with a business idea, write up a business plan, pitch their business idea to a board of investors and they then receive money and a business license so they can get started,” Jones said. However, the class also teaches them how to write professionally and in a business-like manner, learn how to speak articulately, learn how to network themselves and ultimately, gain a higher sense of self-confidence, which I believe is of incredible benefits to our students.”
When signing up for classes to take last year, Weston’s interest was piqued when he saw the class, and took a chance and joined.
“I liked the class from the beginning. Ms. Jones would have different business people and mentors help us along with our projects, and that really helped me learn and get started with this hunting vest venture,” Weston said.
Given two weeks to develop a business idea for the class, Weston and his family came up with an idea for a product that the hunting industry was lacking.
“We spent a lot of time on the back porch trying to come up with ideas,” Heather Abrams, Hunter’s mother, said. “I’m not much of a hunter, but when Hunter and his stepdad brought up their past hunting trips where the meat went bad because it wasn’t kept cool, I knew this would be great topic for Hunter. It’s tied to one of his passions and it’s an issue that his idea could solve.”
Weston would spend the next two weeks working on his project and keeping in close touch with his mentor, Roundhouse founder Kyle Sandler, who has helped him handle the business end of the project.
The night of the YEA competition, Weston said he had his doubts about how he would do in the competition.
“Everyone there had apps and more practical things than mine, because mine is something that is kind of seasonal. I didn’t feel confident going into it,” Weston said.
However, those things did not matter, as Weston’s hunting vest idea took first prize in the school’s competition and punched his ticket to the YEAA’s national entrepreneurial contest in Rochester, New York.
Weston was accompanied by his mother and Opelika Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Patton to New York for the competition, which lasted from May 5-7.
In a field of 100 competitors, Weston did not place, but he said the insight and experience gained from participating in this event was invaluable.
“Being in New York was an incredible experience. I got to meet a lot of bigtime business people and other kids at the competition who had great ideas of their own. It was a great opportunity and I was glad I was able to represent our community and state up there,” Weston said.
For now, the hunting vest business is still in the infant stages, but Weston said the idea is gaining traction.
“Kyle is helping us establish connections with local hunting enthusiasts like Scott Bridges and others, and is working on launching a business site online for us. We are going to manufacture our own for a while, but once demand is up, I hope to be able to sell the business to a bigger manufacturer like Browning or Winchester who will be able to mass produce the vest.”
Meanwhile, Weston is busy playing city league baseball and preparing for his freshman year at Opelika High School in the fall. He said he still plans on coming up with another hunting-related business idea for next year’s competition, with hopes of advancing past the New York round into the final round held in Washington, D.C.
“As his mother, I was awestruck by what my son was able to accomplish,” Abrams said. “He competed in a national competition at 14-years-old and did so well. Words really can’t describe how proud I feel to be his mother, and I feel like his best accomplishments in life are still ahead of him.”