During back-to-school season, students usually trade stories about how they spent their summer. For a group of students in California, this year will be a chance to boast about their entrepreneurship skills.
Although some had never even been on an airplane, students from Santa Monica High School traveled to Shanghai this summer, where they won first place in the SAGE World Cup, an international entrepreneurship competition.
The team from Santa Monica, Calif., which earned the opportunity to represent the United States during a national SAGE competition in May, beat out teams from countries such as Ghana, Kazakhstan, and Russia. The 2005 championship team from Ukraine was awarded second place this year.
SAGE, or Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship, operates programs in six U.S. states and nine countries that advance entrepreneurship education by connecting student organizations to mentors from local universities and businesses.
In competition, each high-school team gave a 15-minute presentation about their ongoing student-run businesses and associated outreach projects. They then answered questions from a panel of judges. The students were judged on entrepreneurship, community outreach, civic engagement, environmental responsibility, and the use of college mentors and an advisory board.
The Santa Monica student presentation featured plans to expand the offerings of the student-operated and managed Vikes' Inn and Café. In anticipation of changes to California law regarding what foods can be served on campus, the students planned to create Vikes' Salad Bar.
"The students decided to be proactive," said Teri Jones, Santa Monica's team adviser. "Even though the laws haven't changed yet, the students designed projects to encourage healthier eating."
Other student projects presented in competition included a newspaper focused on financial literacy and entrepreneurship created by the Ukraine team, the Chinese team's business selling local handmade crafts at cultural trade fairs, and the Nigerian team's program of teaching business planning to inmates at a local prison.
"It was quite the experience for us," said Doug Monroy, 18, a member of the Santa Monica High School team. "It was great to meet people from around the world. We were all high-school students and we found we were all doing the same things. We were all going for the same goal."
Monroy, who graduated from high school this spring, said SAGE gave him a vision for his future and an enthusiasm for education that he had never experienced.
"I'll be honest, I first started with SAGE for all the wrong reasons," he said. "They said, 'field trips,' I said, 'I'm in.' They said, 'you need these credits to graduate,' I said, 'I'll do it.' But I learned there's something that I'm good at, something that I can pursue in my future."
"I got the opportunity to become a manager, then a vice president," he added. "It was fun. Instead of sitting in a classroom all day learning from an instructor, you're learning through trial and error. If you don't order products, you're not going to make any money. Now, I know when I do sit down and have somebody teach me all day, it's because I'm doing something for my future."
Curt DeBerg, the founder of SAGE, said Monroy's reaction is exactly the kind of awareness his program seeks to bring to students. "Most of these students come away saying, 'I can be a leader in my community. I can be a business leader or run a nonprofit. I have an important role to play."