Students mind their own business

They're among the best in the nation.

Six of Costa Mesa High School's Virtual Enterprise students were named the country's No. 2 Business Plan team Thursday for their work on the virtual Great Park Wildlife Center.

Not far behind is Costa Mesa's Abeille team, which was named fifth in the country.

Students from the teams competed last week in the National Business Plan competition during the Virtual Enterprises International Youth Business Summit in New York City.

Virtual Co-Chief Executive Cesar Chavez, 17, said he was happy to see all the hard work pay off.

"We finally got to share our ideas and show it's more than just a class — more than something virtual," he said.

Cesar started taking Business Academy classes when he was a sophomore and joined Virtual Enterprise this school year; the class is only for seniors.

Teacher Michael Sciacca, who has been the Business Academy coordinator for eight years, said the time it takes is worth it.

"It's the most amazing experience," he said. "They come in at 5:45 every morning and they come on weekends and holidays. It requires a lot of time, but it's not work. You get to see students take ownership of their own success."

The ROP program has been at the high school for 15 years, but Costa Mesa first advanced to the national stage two years ago when a team finished fifth in the state qualifying it to compete in New York. The team did not finish at the top that year.

But last year a team from Costa Mesa was named the No. 1 team in the nation.

"This year we had to be careful with expectations," Sciacca said.

He said students were told that though they were highly talented, there would be a lot of schools there with talented students.

Students put their business plans up against 19 schools, including teams from New York, North Carolina and Virginia.

At the state competition, Costa Mesa competes against about 100 schools with about 30 business planning teams, according to team Accounting Director Harry Do, 17.

Sciacca said the class is designed to teach a variety of skills including leadership, public speaking, management and working with a team.

There are two classes of about 25 students now, which Sciacca said speaks to people seeing the value in the course.

The No. 2 national team is the Great Park Wildlife Center, which includes a virtual petting zoo, education about wildlife and an animal rescue, Do said.

He said students spend most of the year coming up with a business, a business plan and a PowerPoint presentation that explains it all.

During the first round, students present the PowerPoint, which Do took charge of to make sure all the animation matched what was being said. After that there is an eight-minute question-and-answer period between the students and six judges.

In round two, the top six teams and students must then present their work to a room of about 100 people including judges and other teams.

Chief Executive Raquel Friedmann from Abeille, which finished fifth, said they fell short because of a complicated business plan that was a little hard to explain.

The business was organic humane beekeeping for which they sold virtual honey and wax.

The 18-year-old said she and a teammate completed a 20-hour internship with Guerilla Beekeeping in Silverado in order to understand the business. She said another reason the business plan may not have finished higher has to do with a prejudice against its subject matter.

"Not many people like bees but they provide so much for our world," she said.

Before hitting the tournament, students were able to visit Wall Street. After the announcement of the winners Thursday, students then traveled toWashington, D.C., for a couple of days.

Each student paid $2,000 to go on the trip.

When they get back students will put on a showcase for parents to let them see what he said is often a hard concept to grasp.

"It's important for kids to be given full trust and flexibility," Sciacca said. "You determine the experience you get. If you want to do mediocre or average it's your choice or if you want to do amazing, it's also your choice. The sky's the limit."

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