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High schoolers shine at business week

July 14, 2008

High schoolers shine at business week

Anyone who looked north of 30 years old in Olson Auditorium could expect one of two things to happen: Either an eager high school student, dressed in tie and slacks, would come up and shake their hand, or an eager high school student in a skirt and sensible pumps would introduce herself. Both would make a business pitch and entice you over to see their product or service. If they found out you were not a judge for Washington Business Week, they would politely excuse themselves and troll for business capital elsewhere.

The look of disappointment that I wasn’t a judge was plain on Austin Vu’s face. But he was polite and took time, once he realized potential venture capitalists were all tied up at the moment, to explain his product and his company. Formally known at “Company J,” it was selling a universal technology to link remotes, mp3 players and cell phones.

The Inglemoor High School junior explained his business and what he hoped to do with his experience at the event.

“This gives you real life experience, “said Vu, CEO of Company J. “The experience has been great.”

He then spotted a judge and mock investor wandering around – the volunteers from the local business community were easily identified by the fake investment dollars in their hands. His attention immediately snapped away from me, and with a polite murmured, “Excuse me,” he was off in the venture capital hunt.

For the third annual year, the Washington Business Week Summer Program was hosted by PLU from June 22 to 28. About 230 high school students attend the weeklong event, which features simulations and seminars to provide students with a better understanding of business and free enterprise.

“Companies” are in fact groups of 15 students working in a business simulation to create the most profitable organization. The students also learn about business leadership through hands-on learning, seminars, lectures and interaction with local business people. The culminating project was the June 27 trade show, where students pitched their products to judges.

According to Mark Mulder, PLU’s director of auxiliary services, the point is not to create the next Donald Trump or Martha Stuart, but a business guru more along the likes of Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammed Yunus. Yunus is famous for a business model that makes micro-loans to people, specifically women, in developing countries under the Grameen Bank.

Teresa Suprak, president of operations at Farrelli’s Wood Fire Pizza, said she was impressed by the “professional aura” of the students, the eye contact and the courage it took to introduce themselves to an adult, time and time again.

Talicia Rhem, a student at Charles A. Lindberg High School in Renton, said while she doesn’t see herself going into business, she hopes to use the skills she picked up in a possible career in journalism or dentistry. And she’ll pay more attention to stocks and investing.

At the end of Friday’s session, the students gathered to receive feedback from the judges and share their impressions of the event. There, Vu, who plans to pursue a career in business, gave the event high marks even though at the end of the day, Company J didn’t receive the most investor dollars. That honor went to Company K.

“At least everyone played fair and no one stole anyone else’s investors,” Vu said.

Washington Business Week started in 1976 at Central Washington University in Walla Walla. It eventually expanded to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Western Washington University in Bellingham and most recently PLU, which first brought Business Week to campus three years ago.