Hundreds of Illinois high school students who dreamed up their own businesses got a chance to pitch them at a trade show in Rosemont last week.
The students wore business suits and hustled for several hours selling products like camping equipment, vacation packages, or hoverboards that can fly. They had bank accounts. They knew how to keep inventory.
“I will highly recommend the self-cooling tent. It can fit a good amount of people out there,” said Matthew Lane, a student from St. Charles, Illinois. “Then for the dog, we do have various packages that would take you outside with [your] dog.”
Lane like other students, walked around holding IPads to close business deals and enter students’ debit card information.
But nothing at this loud and busy business fair was real — except for the experience. At this “virtual enterprise” conference, all the services, products, and even bank accounts exist only in a fictitious system created by Virtual Enterprises International (VE). The national nonprofit partners with schools across the country to bring real-life business experiences into the classroom.
“They are learning how to stand and answer questions that maybe they are prepared for and maybe not,” said Wendy Schmitt, the national program manager and Great Lakes regional director for VE. “They are learning salesmanship, they have made connections with students from around the country as well as some business professionals.”
Students, she added, who hope to work in business have to deal with the fallout of mismanagement and overspending but not the real-world consequences of losing money or getting fired.
But that doesn’t mean the students didn’t take their jobs seriously.
“You have to be really careful with the numbers because with one mistake, you mess everything up,” said Daisy Cardoso, a junior at Sarah E. Goode Academy on Chicago’s South Side, one of the 42 schools at the trade show. She is part of a fictitious company, Innovatio, which offers products made by a 3D printer.
Cardoso wants to be an accountant. She said her role at Innovatio has taught her to keep track of her finances and balance a budget.
At the conference, students competed against each other in several categories, including for the best marketing strategy and best website.
Isabella Tauseher, a senior at Belvidere North High School, entered a human resources competition. She and her partner submitted an employee handbook for their company, Envision North, and were interviewed by a judge. They explained how they treat employees and the incentives they use to keep them motivated.
“I’ve had a huge interest in business so I wanted to take this class and see what is like,” Tauseher said. “It prepares for a real life situation and how it is actually in the business world.”