WHS student is Entrepreneur of the Year

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The Monroe County startUP program recently announced this year’s winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Pictured, from left, Monroe County startUP board member George Obernagel presents a $1,000 check to James Hopkins, winner of this year’s startUP Entrepreneur of the Year award. 

Using a combination of a rubric from the class trade show and the students’ knowledge and progress throughout the class, the program’s board members bestowed the honor on Waterloo High School junior James Hopkins. 

“It was a huge honor,” Hopkins said of the award. “I’m still kind of dumbfounded that I won it. I worked really hard for it. The thing is, anyone in that class could have gotten it. For me, it’s just a huge opportunity.” 

Hopkins first learned of the program – which aims to prepare students to be responsible, enterprising individuals who become entrepreneurs or entrepreneurial thinkers and contribute to economic development and sustainable communities – from his father. 

Hopkins’ father runs a business of his own and encouraged his son to apply for the program. 

“He gave me a little nudge, and with that little nudge I took off with it,” Hopkins, who turns 17 next month, said. “It was a fun process and I learned a lot from that.” 

Once he was accepted into the class, James, the son of Jim and Wendy Hopkins, began researching ideas for his business near the start of the school year. 

He decided to make playing card mats because of a combination of preferring to make a physical product, his father having some experience with card mats, wanting a mat for himself and not liking what was on the market and the relative easiness of turning a profit with mats.  

With the help of his dad, Hopkins found a sourcing agent in China and a place to print the mats, which he decided to sell on Amazon. 

He joined the market at a fortuitous time, as other mats were selling out during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. Hopkins quickly put money into advertising and ensured he had plenty of supply.

He eventually got sales that matched his largest competitor, which is when Amazon took notice and gave his product the Amazon’s Choice designation. 

“That really pushed me over the top, getting me past my biggest competitor,” Hopkins noted.

Hopkins also earned that badge of honor by being “strategic” with the keywords he used to describe his product. 

“Amazon’s algorithms are always changing, so you have to figure out what they want their sellers to look like and what they want you to put up,” Hopkins said. 

When he realized he had a knack for selling on Amazon, Hopkins decided early this year to expand his business by offering to set up Amazon sales for other businesses, as he was confident he could sell at least a few products a day for other companies. 

“They won’t have to focus on it,” Hopkins explained of his service. “I’m going to be the one managing everything. It’s similar to finding a contractor where I’m going to be doing all the backend stuff. It’s going to be another stream of income, and while it’s going to be passive for them, it’s going to be active for me.” 

Hopkins also plans to expand his product lineup by making playing card sleeves. 

He said he will continue his business after high school – although maybe only passively while he attends college to earn a degree in something related to business and science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

Hopkins said none of this would have been possible without the startUP class.

“startUP was a huge opportunity,” he said. “It was phenomenal. I really enjoyed it and I think it could benefit anyone, anywhere they go.” 

To learn more about Hopkins’ mats, look up “gypsy goblin card mat” on Amazon. To contact him about handling Amazon sales, call 618-671-4602 or email james.hopkins.t@gmail.com.

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