Richard Handler is a senior at Greer High School and, like most of his peers, he has his sights set toward graduation in June. Although graduation is now just a semester away and his peers are eagerly anticipating the end, he is not in a hurry to wish away the rest of his senior year. He has some unfinished business keeping his mind focused on the here and now. Richard is determined to build on the success that the Greer High School Virtual Enterprise class had at the Virtual Enterprise National Business Plan Competition in New York last year. Richard, in his role as CEO, along with his team of fellow student executives moved one step closer toward their ultimate goal – a chance to display their business skills to Fortune 500 executives thereby earning the title of Virtual Enterprise National Business Plan Champions.
Every school day for the last five months the Virtual Enterprise students at Greer High have set their sights on establishing their own successful business concept. If the early sales returns are to be believed then these young entrepreneurs have found a sweet spot in the market. The students have worked to build their company, Chocolate Couture, from the ground up. From initial concept to processing customer orders, these students have accomplished every key step in the course of opening a business. The students’ concept is designed to apply a modern twist to chocolate bars, chocolate confections, and gift baskets. Each product the firm produces is made from 100% organic chocolates purchased from Fair Trade vendors. The students recognize that the growing consumer demand for organic and natural foods gives them a unique advantage in a very competitive market. With tasteful treats that are both health friendly and socially conscious Chocolate Couture stands out in taste and design.
Although the sales are pouring in, the sales occur in a fictitious virtual environment made up of over 5,000 schools worldwide using imaginary currency. While the company the students have created may not be exactly real, the skills these future corporate executives learned to apply in a virtual economy will play a role in the future success of our nation’s real economy. Students in this class are accountants, marketers, human resource agents, and web designers. Each student in the class also plays a key role in the creation of the firm’s 30-page business plan.
On January 10, young executives from around the state traveled to Columbia to present their plans to judges from SCORE, a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow, and achieve their goals through education and mentorship. Each team had twelve minutes to present their business plan and then eight minutes to answer questions about how they plan to implement the proposed business plan. After two intense rounds of competition, Chocolate Couture earned 1st place and, with it, the right to represent South Carolina at the Virtual Enterprise International Youth Business Summit and Trade Show in New York City.
Held April 8-11, this summit of virtual businesses is sponsored by the New York Life Foundation and HSBC Bank. The annual Youth Business Summit is the signature event of Virtual Enterprises International, offering students multiple opportunities to demonstrate their skills, knowledge, and diverse talents in entrepreneurship, communications, computer technology, and global business management—key components of the VEI program. The program is designed to encourage students to grow in business understanding, comprehension, decision-making, and (most importantly) self-confidence. Students are required to think outside of the standard lines and boundaries of high school educational practices and are challenged not only to learn concepts and theories practiced in today’s global business environment but also to implement the concepts and theories into real-world situations.
Greer will not be the only firm to represent South Carolina at the Youth Business Summit. By virtue of their second place finish at the state level, Destination: Food Nation from St. James High School near Myrtle Beach earned a chance to present their firm to a waiting panel of judges. Laura Burdick, the school’s virtual enterprise coordinator commented, “The executives of Destination: Food Nation are excited for the chance to showcase their business in New York and represent South Carolina. It is very rewarding when the students realize the magnitude of what Virtual Enterprise program teaches them and how it has influenced their education, and more importantly, the decisions that will affect their futures.” She added, “Students welcome the concept of operating a business when they walk through the VE lab’s door. To see a classroom transform into a business in the middle of a school day is magical! I just smile when an ‘employee’ asks – “Are we getting paid overtime for today?” This will be the first appearance at national competition for St. James.
While attending the Youth Business Summit, students will have an opportunity to compete in two unique events: the Virtual Enterprise International Trade Show and the Global Business Challenge. The VE International Trade Show allows students from around the world to exhibit a wide range of products and tout their marketing campaigns. From the moment that the trade bell rings, until the final seconds before the closing bell, businesses from all over the world will be working to log sales and increase their bottom line (profit) in the competitive VE marketplace. In past years, schools from the United States have competed alongside schools from Austria, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Germany, Indonesia, Romania, and Sweden. This is truly a global event.
The Global Business Challenge is designed to allow students to experience the global economy and develop expertise that will be critical as they move forward in their education and careers. Students who compete in the event receive a Harvard Business School case study and have the opportunity to read and review the case and examine the challenges, opportunities, and risks facing a global company. On the morning of the event, students will be assigned to a multi-national team of 6-7 students and will be given “The Challenge”. The mission is for each team to analyze company data, to identify relevant information for the assigned task, and to prepare a solutions-based presentation to industry-partner judges. As the teams work, judges will have the opportunity to observe and evaluate performance, professionalism, and effectiveness. After 2.5 hours of analysis and preparation, teams will deliver a 10-minute presentation to these judges, followed by 5 minutes of questions. In addition to the criteria of teamwork, teams are rated on their analysis of the company, the strategies they recommend, and the strength of their answers to judges’ questions. The winners receive Challenge trophies.
“What makes VE unique to me is that the firm belongs to the students, and they make the business decisions necessary to run the firm” reflected coordinator Adam Massey. “Do they make mistakes? You bet they do. The most important thing is never the mistake; it is what they learn from taking a chance, failing, and learning something new as they get back up. I know what qualities businesses want when searching for employees. The opportunities, confidence, knowledge, and skills VE provides students prepare them in ways that few programs can. My students are able to work on a timeline to complete tasks, operate as a team, communicate goals and objectives, and think outside of the box when searching for solutions to difficult problems. Students grow as individuals, team members, and leaders because of this program. I have seen students go far beyond what they ever expected of themselves and that is what changes lives.”
While the profits may not be real, the program does have financial rewards for students who are willing to work hard to stand out in a crowd. At a recent trade show in Tennessee, Richard drew the interest of Dr. Ed Weis, Dean of Business Education at Mercy College in New York. After a conversation about Chocolate Couture, Richard was invited to attend an informational weekend at Mercy where students learned about the schools offerings and unique business education approach. At Mercy, each professor is a successful entrepreneur or a Fortune 500 executive with years of business experience. By allowing students to collaborate with professor-executives who have achieved success in the business world, Mercy allows students to go far beyond book and theoretical knowledge. In many ways, this concept allows each day to be more like an internship than a class as the professor has a successful working knowledge of the content taught.
During his trip to New York, Richard was given an opportunity he never expected. After impressing the administration and faculty with his ambition and desire to succeed in business, Richard was offered a scholarship to attend Mercy’s Honor College. The four-year scholarship will cover the vast majority of his education but, most importantly says Richard, it also allows him “an opportunity to take the skills that I have learned in Virtual Enterprise and use them to take on the next challenge in life.” As a member of the Mercy’s Honors College, Richard will be able to take a business similar to the one he helped create in Virtual Enterprise and bring a real business to life in Mercy’s Business Incubator program. Christopher Salute, Executive Director for the Center for Business Media at Mercy College, advised Richard to explore creating a concept similar to Chocolate Couture as part of the incubator program. “It is exciting to think that college professors feel that an idea that we have crafted as high school students has the potential to grow into a viable business opportunity in the real world.”
When asked about the impact Virtual Enterprise has had on Greer High, Principal Marion Waters noted the success and opportunities the program provides students at his school. “Greer High School students that participate in the Virtual Enterprise Program are provided a world-class opportunity to participate in a virtual entrepreneurial business and to be evaluated by leading CEO’s of Fortune 500 Businesses nationally and internationally. I commend our students for their dedication, persistence, and hard work. Clearly a job well done.”
With an exciting future on the horizon, Richard still knows he has work left to complete at Greer. One lesson he and his team have learned is that in order to move forward you must always be working to build on your successes. For that reason, the celebration of their success was brief. While the judges were impressed with their concept and presentation, there were some areas where they could strengthen their offering. With the advice of successful business executives in mind, the team will now begin implementing changes to position themselves for success on a national stage. With a little luck and a lot of hard work, the executives of Chocolate Couture will find some sweet success on a national stage.
“We are extremely proud of Richard and the VE students at Greer and St. James High Schools, as they exemplify what the Virtual Enterprises International program is all about,” said Dr. Chris Haff, South Carolina’s Program Director. “This is the 4th year Greer High School has placed first in our State Business Plan Competition, earning the right to compete against virtual firms from around the country for the national title.”
Virtual Enterprises International is a task-based global business entrepreneurial program that provides students with opportunities to start and operate businesses in a closed network, buying and selling virtual products to and from VE firms around the world without leaving their classroom. Virtual Enterprises programs are taught in 42 counties and in 25 states. While growing in number each year, there are currently 31 virtual enterprise firms offered in high schools and career centers in South Carolina.
For more information about the Greer High School Virtual Enterprise program, contact Adam Massey, Program Director/Instructor, at (864) 355-5731. For information about starting a Virtual Enterprise Program in your school, contact Dr. Chris Haff, SC Program Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org. or visit the South Carolina Virtual Enterprises website at http://veinternational.org/sc.