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Students Reimagine the Next Successful Business at SEA

May 17, 2022

If you could open a new business at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) what would it be?

Eleventh grade students at Highline High School had the opportunity to reimagine the best use for an empty retail kiosk space at SEA Airport during a recent career awareness event put together by the Port of Seattle and HMS Host staff (a food service company which operates a number of businesses throughout SEA). The next generation of business owners explored the opportunities and challenges that come with operating a business in an airport environment.

The Young Entrepreneur Event was the first in-person career awareness event held by the Port at the airport since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. The Port partners with local schools and organizations to hold career awareness events that inspire young adults to pursue promising careers in port-related industries, such as public safety, construction and engineering, maritime, and more. By introducing the next generation of workers to maritime and aviation careers, the Port is creating equitable opportunities in communities near the airport and seaport that are disproportionally impacted by operations.

During the event, students toured several different retail spaces at the airport and heard from Port Airport Dining and Retail (ADR) Staff, HMS Host, and SEA retail kiosk business owner Danialle An (CHALO) on what it takes to operate a successful business within an environment as unique as the airport.

Based on the insights from staff and an airport tour, students were asked to develop a concept based on an actual retail kiosk leasing opportunity at SEA, located on the A Concourse. They considered the needs of the passengers and the parameters of the space, and presented their concept to a panel of judges made up of Port and HMS Host staff. Parameters included the size of the kiosk — 144-square feet and an exclusion from selling prepared or prepackaged food.

Building connection

Highline students work on their pitch

Highline High School student Sarah Herbruger and her team wanted to connect families waiting for their flight. Their idea? A space where travelers can buy and play tabletop games with friends and family at the airport, called “Break Away.”  

“A place like this is important with building bonds and making connections with family members,” Herbruger said. “It can be hard to find something like that at an airport.”

She said travel can be challenging for families and there aren’t always a lot of opportunities for having fun at the airport. Break Away would change all that.

Customers could choose from variety of games that would appeal to all ages, from classic games like checkers and chess, to modern board games, to card games. Travelers with extra time before their flights could sit down with their families and friends and relax with their favorite game or take the time to try something new.

“The main idea is to make the people of Seattle and travelers more comfortable,” Herbruger said.

Judges selected Break Away as the winning concept.

“What stood out about the winning pitch was that it evoked a sense of family importance. It was a bigger picture experience than just a retail purchase. It implied that the family traveling together may still miss out on bonding experiences and it focused on creating that experience to not only bond people together but help relieve some of the stress with traveling.  It was the most out of the box thinking the entire panel had seen,” said Khalia Moore, Senior Manager, ADR.

Other concepts presented included “Store 'n Go”, which would allow travelers to rent storage lockers inside security and roam the airport bag free. Other concepts included a Bath and Body Works store, and two convenience stores, called “Essentials” and “By the SEA”, where travelers could purchase items they forgot at home or need for a comfortable journey. 

Highline students work on their business pitches.

Scott Van Horn, ADR Business Manager, advised young entrepreneurs to do what they love when starting a business.

“You have to have a passion for it. Truly find something you are passionate about and learn everything about that item,” he said. “Whether it is general restaurant operations, baking, or retail experience, passion is key when operating in an airport.”

Van Horn said he was impressed by the range of ideas he heard from students, who are the next generation of business owners at SEA.

“The most exciting thing for me is we get pitches from a high school student’s perspective of what is important to them. With five different groups we had five different pitch ideas; and each one would work in an airport environment.”

Van Horn added, “A big thanks to HMS Host for their involvement in the event. Not only did their staff play a heavy role in the planning and day of activities, they also fed the students and provided each participant with a gift bag.”

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