The Times West Virginian

November 10, 2013

West Virginia High School Business Plan Competition teaches entrepreneurship

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The West Virginia High School Business Plan Competition is teaching young people about entrepreneurship and giving them the skills for future success.

The West Virginia University College of Business and Economics’ BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is the administrator for the West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition, which is now in its eighth year. The center and the West Virginia Department of Education have held meetings and worked together to develop a competition at the high school level, said Steve Cutright, director of the center.

Several years ago, the Department of Education had some high school business plan contests, which provided a financial award for the winning students and their teacher but not a scholarship.

Some career and technical school organizations have business plan challenges within their competitive events, but the department was interested in expanding the offering to all juniors and seniors in the state, said Dr. Betty Sias, business and marketing coordinator for the Department of Education in the Office of Career and Technical Instruction.

She said the new high school competition, which is modeled after the collegiate-level event, evolved out of some discussions, and the parties collaborated to see how they could make the idea work. Kathy D’Antoni, associate state superintendent of schools with the Department of Education’s Division of Technical, Adult and Institutional Education, was a big part of the efforts.

“We took the idea and structure through the collegiate system and modified it to make it more suitable for the high school environment,” Cutright said.

Over the course of six months, the partners identified processes and procedures and bought PitchBurner, a data-management software package to handle the submission, scoring and judging of the entries, he said. Grants from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the BrickStreet Foundation will offset some of the competition costs.

The WVU BrickStreet Center will oversee and facilitate the high school competition, and the Department of Education will run it, Cutright said. The competition is open to 157 public and private high schools throughout the state, and about 37,000 high school juniors and seniors are eligible to participate.

The students can either work alone or on teams of up to three. For the first round of the competition, the teams must submit their business ideas, in three pages or less, online by Nov. 15.

The eight Regional Education Service Agencies across the state have been lining up judges to score the entries. Ten finalists, including one from each RESA district and the two highest at-large scores, will be announced by Dec. 16.

From late December through the beginning of March, each remaining team will be assigned a business coach and mentor to help them develop their business plan and will go to workshops in their local school district, Cutright said. On March 3, the 10 finalists must submit a 15-page business plan for judging.

Then the final competition will take place March 22 at the WVU Mountainlair in Morgantown. The students will give 10-minute presentations and go through 5-minute question and answer sessions with the judges, which will be scored along with their business plans, he said.

One winner will receive a $10,000 cash scholarship to a school of their choice that is pledging a scholarship. If the winner is a multiple-person team, the scholarship money will be divided among the members.

Currently, 10 higher education institutions across West Virginia have made commitments. Cutright hopes that the schools will also end up recruiting some of the other participants and giving scholarships to those who don’t win.

“The younger we teach entrepreneurship and business processes, I think the more interested our students will become in becoming independent business owners and follow the track of business development,” he said.

Cutright said students will have two years to learn these skills at the high school level, and then they’ll have the chance to participate in the collegiate competition for four years. This will help them really develop their abilities.

“We encourage all the parents to promote the competition with their children and get them involved and support them because it’s a great opportunity for the kids,” he said.

If students have any questions, they should contact their advisors at their local high schools, Cutright said.

Since the beginning of the school year, the Department of Education has been busy sending information about the competition to superintendents and principals across the state, and mailing cards to the schools so the teachers can distribute them to the students, Sias said. Cutright has also been making presentations at schools.

“The high school business plan competition will give students an opportunity to not only pitch their business idea, but also to work with a business (mentor) to develop the complete business plan for that particular idea,” Sias said.

The I-79 Development Council has been a supporter and partner of the West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition, with members serving as judges in the past. The council has also been part of the Department of Education’s entrepreneurship team.

The idea for a high school business plan competition came out of a conversation during a meeting held by the entrepreneurship team, said Deana Keener, president of the I-79 Development Council.

“I-79 Development Council supports business-related education reaching back to our youth in multiple ways,” she said. “We support STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and STEAM (which adds the arts) education in our schools and believe all business principles can benefit students in life as early as they can be taught.”

Keener commented that the high school business plan competition is another way to develop the curriculum so students are employable in the right skill sets that employers need. The competition is extremely valuable because it looks at where the students have strengths and provides mentorship opportunities, she said.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.