Open for business! Murrow High School students win citywide business-plan competition

Open for business! Murrow High School students win citywide business-plan competition
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

These kids mean business!

A group of business students at Edward R. Murrow High School have designed a business-review platform that just got top ratings at the New York City business plan competition in January.

The Midwood school’s business class is part of Virtual Enterprise International, a world-wide business-simulation curriculum and set of competitions in which students create and run their own virtual business. The sections of the business, such as finance and human resources, each have a leader “hired” by the teacher, and these leaders, along with a chief executive officer, make up the team that competes in the city and other competitions.

The secret to creating their winning project was the team members’ dedication, according to the student serving as chief operating officer.

“Everyone is dedicated. You can rely on anyone to respond, even at midnight,” said Dylan Beirne-Meyer, of Kensington. “That’s what makes a good team: reliability.”

Students use a simulated, virtual currency to conduct business with other simulated companies in the Virtual Enterprise network, as well as to pay business expenses such as insurance, and even pay themselves salaries — which they in turn must budget for fictional apartments and living expenses — according to the class’s teacher Lisa Costantino.

This year’s class created a business they call Sprout, which operates within Virtual Enterprise International’s network of other student-run businesses, and gives those companies a profile through which they can receive customer feedback and build their brands by posting about their companies. The profiles function like social media sites, and give businesses the ability to post deals, upgrades and company news. The name Sprout refers to how the company allows businesses grow like flowers, according to the students.

Virtual Enterprise International already had a directory of all the participating companies, but it was simply a list, and the Murrow team saw an opportunity to expand on it with Sprout.

“It’s the only business review platform in the Virtual Enterprise network,” said chief executive officer Jason Mishiyev, from Sheepshead Bay. “And it allows companies to gain brand recognition and consumer feedback from clients.”

Sprout creates pages for other Virtual Enterprise businesses, but then charges those companies to claim them, and offers packages that allow greater advertising, the ability to upload photos, and other services, according to the Sprout website.

After winning last month’s citywide competition, the team will go on to compete in the national business plan competition in April.

Success is not new to Murrow’s Visual Enterprise teams — the school has won three national competitions since first participating in 2002, according to Costantino.

Sprout’s chief creative officer, Maven Nzeutem of Ditmas Park, is confident they will win the national championship because their company creates actual value, even within Virtual Enterprise’s simulated business community.

“It’s super easy to make a business that sells products, but it’s not tangible,” she said, adding that the food businesses in the program simply send you images of food. “We have an actual, functioning site.”

Programs such as Visual Enterprise also allow the students to find what roles in business excite them the most. Sprout’s chief financial officer Sharon Lei, from Bensonhurst, said she developed a love for accounting while participating in the program.

“You have the opportunity to find your interests and passions here,” she said.

The Virtual Enterprise classroom resembles an office —he chiefs sit at the heads of the tables for their respective departments, sometimes moving to a conference table for meetings. Students make phone calls to others in the network, selling their product to prospective buyers. Costantino, formerly a financial analyst at Bear Stearns, said the devotion the students show to business is why she keeps teaching, rather than returning to finance.

“Visual Enterprise gave me new life as a teacher,” she said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Nzeutem cited the teachers’ real-world experience as one of the advantages of going to Murrow.

“Because it’s such a big school, so many teachers have experience doing what they teach,” she said.

The students say their success is in part due to the school allowing them the time and space to pursue their interests.

“It’s very inclusive,” said the team’s chief human resources officer, Ahdanah Sylvestre, from Canarsie. “People of any background can find something they love here.”

Reach reporter Adam Lucente at alucente@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow him on Twitter @Adam_Lucente.