Virtual Enterprises International (VEI) is an in-school entrepreneurship program and global business simulation that draws on the European tradition of apprenticeships, transforming students into business executives and classrooms into office settings. Open to all students, VEI empowers and motivates participants to develop a range of academic, business, technology and professional skills that prepares them for success in post-secondary education, employment and the community.
The idea of an office simulation can be traced back to the 17th Century. In Europe, simulated practice firms have been established for many years as places for commercial training. Since World War II, however, these simulated offices have evolved into a practical vehicle for interdisciplinary instruction and an in-school work experience.
After visiting practice firms in Vienna, Austria in 1994 and observing the benefits of this instructional model, the New York City High School Superintendents spearheaded the development of practice firms (virtual enterprises) in seven New York City public high schools—the first program of its kind in the United States.
The Virtual Enterprise Program in New York City public schools has drawn national attention as an applied learning instructional model for business, economics, finance and career education. The concept has grown in the United States to include programs in over 500 secondary and post-secondary institutions.
The VEI Approach
Using a student-centered approach that emphasizes project-based collaborative learning, VEI replicates the functions and demands of real businesses in both structure and practice. With the guidance of a teacher-facilitator and a business partner, VEI students establish and manage a virtual company, conducting business with other “firms” domestically and internationally. Students are involved in all aspects of running the business, including human resources, accounting, product development, production, distribution, marketing, and sales.
Students are assigned to work in different departments, typically Administration, Accounting/Finance, Sales, Marketing, Human Resources and IT. The class selects a CEO and managers who oversee each department. Working in teams to make decisions about how to complete their departmental tasks in support of company goals and objectives, students learn from both their successes and mistakes.
“Study findings show that the VE program helps students to gain job-readiness and academic skills, which help prepare students for both careers and college. The program’s greatest strength is its student-centered, project-based approach.”
The VEI approach emphasizes learning in four key areas:
- Ownership: Students take responsibility for their own learning
- Experiential: Students’ learning is authentic and realistic
- Cooperative: Students learn with and from others and understand the dynamics of working as part of a team.
- Reflective: Students experience the consequences of their decisions and apply that learning to future challenges
Learning by Doing Business Globally
VEI firms conduct business across a network of 5,000 student-run companies spanning 40 countries and a breadth of products and services—from banking, insurance and technology to publishing, advertising, cosmetics, tourism and fashion. The transfer of funds is made electronically through a web-based banking system that links all U.S. firms with other virtual firms worldwide. By engaging in business and trade across industries, borders, and cultures, VEI students experience the expectations of the workplace and of conducting business in the global marketplace.
VEI has developed curricula to support the goals and objectives of the program. Curriculum strategies include and address interdisciplinary instruction, project-based learning, research, different learning styles and real-world applications and can be downloaded from the VEI website the various state websites. An end of course assessment is available through NOCTI (National Occupational Competency Testing Institute).
Melanie Mortimer, SIFMA Foundation
“Virtual Enterprises literally brings business to life for students of all backgrounds, enabling them to build skills that will give them a competitive edge in work and in life. From leadership development, to business management, to financial planning, VE students are gaining experience that is practical and that inspires them to dream big and achieve.”
Extended Learning Opportunities
Students engage in various business activities throughout the year that create authentic extended learning opportunities. National and international trade shows, local and national business plan competitions and the Global Business Challenge are key components of the VE program that enable students to gain valuable experience in communications, technology, global business and the world of work.
Trade shows, which are held annually in different cities across the U.S. and around the world, provide students with opportunities to present and market the products/services of their virtual business in a competitive marketplace with both local and global VE colleagues. Trade show competitions allow students to demonstrate their skills, knowledge and diverse talents in marketing, communications, computer technology, and global business.
The Teacher as Facilitator
In the VEI learning environment, the teacher’s role changes from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side.” Because the program employs a student-centered approach to learning that emphasizes project-based, collaborative learning, the teacher’s primary responsibility is to guide and direct student learning, not to deliver a daily prescribed lesson.
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The Virtual Enterprise program offered in South Carolina meets the South Carolina State Standards for the Operations Management Major in the Business Management and Administration cluster.