Natalie Bot and Tara Thooft took a giant step on the top rung of the National FCCLA ladder with recent news that the duo finished first in the nation in the Entrepreneurship category.
Bot and Thooft, who will both be sophomores at Minneota this fall, earned gold medals at the National Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) STAR Award convention from July 2-7 in Nashville, TN.
Following the convention, judges conferred and tallied the total scores at the FCCLA national headquarters in Virginia before notifying the respective schools that had teams finishing in the top 10 in each category.
Over 7,600 individuals competed at the national convention.
Minnesota had 15 teams place in the top 10 in a category, as well as two that finished first. Besides Minneota, the other top finisher was a team from Spring Lake Park in the Career Investigation category.
“I was looking at the email they sent and they had Minneota spelled Minnesota so I didn’t notice they won right away,” said LeaAnne Bot, Minneota Family and Consumer Sciences instructor as well as the FCCLA advisor.
“Then I looked again and said ‘Oh, my gosh.' They are first in the nation. It would have been exciting if they were in the top five. But only one can be number one. I’m so proud of them.”
Bot and Thooft have been best friends for many years and have also competed together in speech competitions. The FCCLA project that they received the highest accolades in the nation for was a cupcake business called “Mad Batter”, the name a derivation of the Alice in Wonderland character, Mad Hatter.
“I was not originally going to do the Entrepreneurship category,” admitted Natalie Bot. “I was originally going to do a project in Nutrition and Wellness.”
When Thooft didn’t have a partner for her Entrepreneurship project, Bot climbed aboard.
“Tara was threatening to just not do a project at all, so I dropped Nutrition and Wellness to take on this project,” said Bot. “Tara and I then decided the business of a cupcake shop.”
Thooft deflected any praise directed her way to her friend and partner.
“I had never done the Entrepreneurship category before. I heard it was challenging, but I thought I was up for the challenge. Little did I know that I was very wrong,” she admitted.
“Like always, I procrastinated until the last minute. And to make matters worse, I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. When I realized that I couldn’t do the project alone, I practically begged Natalie to join me. I owe all my success this year to Natalie because without her I wouldn’t have made it nearly as far.”
This is the first FCCLA team from Minneota to finish in the top spot in the nation.“When I found out we got number one in the nation, it didn't feel real,” Bot admitted. “To be honest, it still does not feel real.”
“To find out you got first is a crazy experience. Anything can go wrong: a judge that doesn't understand your views or how you put something in your portfolio, a stutter, losing your spot. Everything has to be so perfect it's unbelievable. I'm soaking it in while I can, because who knows when a star-aligning event like this can happen again.”
Thooft nearly echoed those statements.
“I was absolutely shocked. It was an honor just making it to nationals, but to be ranked first in the nation feels almost unreal,” said Thooft.
“I’m just really thankful to have such supportive people around me like our community, but especially Natalie and Mrs. Bot. I am also thankful for the judges who were all very encouraging, and I know that any success I may have in the future will be because of the skills learned in FCCLA."
When the girls were putting their project together this year, there was very little disagreeing and that cooperation and ability to make decisions together is likely what led to their success.
“When we would get into an argument we would kind of just put that part off a little while and come back to it later,” said Bot. “We didn't have many arguments over things, so we didn't need to do that much at all.”
At first, the girls contemplated an entire bakery for their Entrepreneurship project, but settled on a cupcake shop.
“We switched to a cupcake shop because who doesn’t like cupcakes?” Thooft explained. “And they could be sold for both everyday enjoyment and celebrations, like a wedding or a graduation.”
As required by the judges, teams in this category must keep records on inventory, cost of supplies, market value, pricing, advertising and more. And they must then give an organized presentation about their project.
As part of their project, the girls made 450 mini cupcakes for Bot’s brother Nick’s graduation reception.
"They made six different kinds of mini cupcakes,” said LeaAnne Bot, also Natalie and Nick’s mother. “It took them three or four days. Their specialty was a ‘surprise’ cupcake that would have something in the middle like mini Reese’s peanut butter cups. They had a wonderful project and delivered a great presentation to the judges.”
Besides having fun and working hard to reach the rung of the national ladder, the girls got a valuable educational experience into the business world.
“I learned a ton from this project,” said Natalie Bot. “First off, anything involving food is above picky, and you will end up forming a plan and redoing it.”
“You need to stay up to date on everything, and you better be on top of every detail. If you don't do those things, you'll never really make it out there. I hadn't thought at all about going into any food business before this project, but I would consider it now.”
So impressed were the national judges with the Minneota team that they suggested the girls have what it takes to appear before a national audience.
“When the judges mentioned that we should be on ‘Shark Tank’, the spark grew even bigger for me,” said Thooft. “Even though it started off as just another project, it now could definitely become a career option for me.”