It’s a rare start-up business that’s self-financing. Short of having a trust fund, would-be entrepreneurs need to pitch detailed business plans to funders and investors exhaustively, coherently and articulately. Learning to do that is part of schooling, too, as the annual Virtual Enterprise International’s Youth Business Summit competition attested.
In round one, held at union headquarters on March 27, 19 student teams from high schools nationwide including three New York City teams — the finalists from earlier competitions involving teams from some 550 U.S. high schools — vied in making oral and written presentations of virtual but workable business plans.
A championship round, where the students exhibited their new virtual businesses as judges made the rounds, was held two days later at the Armory on the Upper East Side.
Top honors in the championship round went to Brooklyn’s Fort Hamilton HS, representing virtual Bon Voyage Travel. Previous first-place winner Staten Island’s New Dorp HS, which advocated for virtual solar-energy engineering firm Solarity, came in third.
The Fort Hamilton HS team was involved in the contest as members of the school’s Virtual Enterprise class, part of the school’s business sequence, said teacher and team coach Mary Grace Alfredo. The team sculpted a tourism business model appropriate to the economic and pricing climate of 2012, focusing on travel packages with an ethnic heritage and culture theme.
Alfredo described her role as “the team facilitator, more like the chairman of the board to the students’ CEO and corporate officers.”
New Dorp HS, whose team has qualified for the championship round in seven of the last 15 national competitions, was coached by Virtual Enterprise teacher Paul Presti. For Presti, the competition and the preparation for it aren’t limited to acquiring specialized business skills. “In this team effort, you learn public speaking, you learn thinking and presenting under pressure, you learn how to write and research.” He described the program as “experience to guide them for life.”
Another team that put up a strong effort was from Brooklyn’s Edward R. Murrow HS, which marketed Brandmark, a virtual Internet advertising startup. Team members said the company would engage in “net branding” by establishing “visibility, trust and brand loyalty for customers’ products and services.” Its business plan included an assessment of its strengths in contrast to existing competitors, whose operations and costs had been vetted by the students.
Lisa Costantino, the Murrow HS team’s coach who has taught for 19 years, said the work that her students put into events like this, added to Murrow’s strong business program, “is why I love my job.”
Among the teams from farther afield was one from Southern California’s Costa Mesa HS. The group, this year’s California state champions and the competition’s second-place winners, were dressed alike in gray with red ties or scarves “to emphasize we’re a team with a single perspective,” said senior Caitlyn Brock.
The California group proposed a wildlife center that would complement Orange County’s new and sprawling Great Park, which when completed will dwarf Central Park. They projected the center’s attracting more visitors to the park by acting as an animal rescue shelter and educational complex serving six nearby school districts. Operating funds would be generated through group tours and corporate event exhibitions, the team’s business plan stated.
Despite the presence of the three New York City schools, UFT Vice President for CTE High Schools Sterling Roberson insisted he was there to cheer all the teams on.
“So put your game face on. You’re looking great,” he told students in his opening remarks at round one.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew told attendees that he had left off handling media inquiries to bring them greetings.
“Why doesn’t the press come down here and see the future of this city and this country and the great work you’re doing?” he said. “This is what education is all about.”