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Team of business students from Staten Island's New Dorp HS named tops in the city
Diane C. Lore/Staten Island Advance By Diane C. Lore/Staten Island Advance
- on February 02, 2013 
Shore Photos -- January 30, 2013 Team Solarity--a group of New Dorp High School students involved in the Virtual Enterprise Business program--celebrate their win in the New York City Business Plan Competition. Pictured are, from left, faculty coordinator Paul Presti, Francis Zapata, Tim Avdiu, Billy Ding, Lindsay Dewey, Alexandra Lau and Vlad Golovin.  
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- The companies they run may not be real — yet — but the success of New Dorp High School’s Virtual Enterprise (VE) students is very much so. In fact the school’s VE program is tops in the city.

For the fourth time in the last five years, New Dorp finished in first place in the New York City Business Plan Competition, qualifying them for the national contest in the spring.

Students, and everyone involved in the New Dorp program, deserve kudos for racking up some pretty heavy stats: This is the eighth year New Dorp’s VE has qualified for the national competition. In all, the VE program has won six regional titles, four city championships, and a national championship since 2005. Students have won more than 90 awards, with various championships in VE competitions sponsored by the Federal Reserve, the New York Stock Exchange and other heavy-hitters in the financial sphere.

The citywide competition took place in the offices of Deloitte & Touche in the World Financial Center in lower Manhattan.

Virtual Enterprise is a program in which local companies mentor students as they operate their own virtual firms. Throughout the school year, students make business proposals, set prices for their products and develop presentations for their future clients. They frequently trade information and perform research to get an understanding of their clients’ needs.

Participating students are typically still poring over their work as late as 6 p.m. on school days, long after most of their peers have headed home for the day.

The class is beneficial — not only because it teaches teens about business intertwined with current events, but also because it excites youngsters about going into business, school administrators said. Many of the students wind up getting internships or jobs by networking.

The winning team from New Dorp is called Solarity, a theoretical company that sells solar panels and solar-related products to other virtual firms in the network. A second New Dorp team that competed, VE Law & Insurance, provides legal and insurance services, including leases, wills, incorporation packages, and workmen’s compensation within the network.

Both teams competed against 18 other firms. Solarity was named champion just before 5 p.m., after three grueling, day-long rounds of presentations and question-and-answer sessions.

“They did very well, extraordinary,” said VE faculty coordinator Paul Presti. “They left no stone unturned.”

The program enjoys solid support from New Dorp Principal Deirdre DeAngelis, who makes it a point to attend the competitions, as well as assistant principal Christine Drucker, who works behind the scenes to be sure students have the opportunity to compete.

Team Solarity members include Francis Zapata, Tim Avdiu, Billy Ding, Lindsay Dewey, Alexandra Lau and Vlad Golovin.

Ding, a New Dorp senior and the “chief executive officer” of the fictional Solarity corporation, said judges were impressed with the company’s business plan and its relevancy to current real-life economic, environmental and political situations. He noted, for example, that the company offers “green energy solutions” to the burning of fossil fuels.

The VE victory represents a personal triumph for Ding. His family was displaced from their home for weeks by Hurricane Sandy. The teen recently moved back and has resumed his studies, just in time to learn he’d been awarded a four-year scholarship to New York University.

Miss Dewey, the director of operations for Solarity, said at first she couldn’t believe the team had won the championship because she believes that “nothing is in the bag.” The teen will be going to Belgium next month to represent New Dorp in the VE European Trade Fair. She said she’s looking forward to competing in the national business plan competition in April.

Managing to succeed

Virtual Enterprise program prepares students for business world
Photo by Bruce Cotler

The virtual corporate world connects students to the real world. “It influences what they want to do for a living, be it an accountant, lawyer, entrepreneur,” said teacher Paul Presti. View more photos >>

Photo by Bruce Cotler

Virtual Enterprise at Staten Island’s New Dorp HS has students managing their own corporation. From left are top executives Julio Mejia and Nicholas Venier with human resources associate Ilirida Marke.

Photo by Bruce Cotler

Jose Haley of sales and marketing creates a brochure.

They’re dressed in suits or business casual, are forthcoming, discuss things like work flow and subliminal images, and have firm handshakes as they thank you for coming.

They’re teenagers.

You are not dreaming.

You have simply stepped into a parallel universe of high school seniors who run Virtual Management & Insurance at Staten Island’s New Dorp HS.

Yes, insurance. Not a word that usually goes under the heading of “What Do Teenagers Really Want?”

But listen to Klea Papuli, manager of sales:

“I like the challenge of persuading people to be interested in our product, because insurance is not the most exciting product.”

Roy Dieudonne, manager of marketing, agrees it’s all about persuasion:

“I like being in creative instead of in corporate, being in charge of advertising, and am interested in ways to subliminally speak to people through commercials, ads, video.”

Talk to these job-ready students and to teacher Paul Presti and it’s clear that this virtual business world has its feet planted firmly in reality.

The program teaches entrepreneurship, finance, economics, business and technology through a task-based, hands-on curriculum.

Guided by their classroom teacher and community business mentors, students create and manage a virtual company, conducting business with other virtual firms nationally and internationally.

There are after-school and summer internships, workshops and competitions.

Last school year both of New Dorp’s Virtual Enterprise programs took home the gold in the prestigious Business Plan Championship.

Management & Insurance won first place in the city and second in the national competitions; the school’s Law, History and Human Rights Institute won first in the national and second in the city.

There are 45 schools throughout the city with Virtual Enterprise programs; some, like New Dorp, have two programs.

“New Dorp is doing a bang-up job, no question,” said John Jastremski, associate director of Virtual Enterprise International’s New York office.

Presti, a business and accounting teacher and former comptroller and business owner, is perfect as the “sage on the stage, then the guide on the side,” in Virtual parlance, and has relished teaching in the program since coming aboard in 2005.

“Students are getting real world experience. Whatever they do for a living is going to include using skills learned in our six departments,” Presti said.

Human resources, research and development, accounting, sales, marketing and auditing each have their own section in the large space, complete with office cubicles, personnel and managers.

“New Dorp has become a great school,” said Presti, “but it’s been shown that even in a struggling school, this program brings out the best in every student.”

Now students are bringing out the best in each other as they gear up for the January championship.

“I’m making sure we’re on track for the competition,” said Julio Mejia, chief executive officer, who will write the business plan’s executive summary with the director of operations, Nicholas Venier.

Balance sheets are being readied.

Accounting manager Kelly Nelson is learning “not only how to make my own balance sheet but how to deal with people, with stress and managing others.”

“I love math,” says Karin Manukyan, manager of auditing. After business school she wants to be an auditor in the food industry, which she feels would be a good fit. After all, her family owns Alladin’s Grill in Dongan Hills on Staten Island.

Stephen Heyer, manager of research and development, is “learning about leadership and how to deal with the pressure of meeting a deadline.”

Erum Zubair of human resources is learning “how to be a manager and manage my time well and get everything accomplished.”

All these seniors envision futures in business, which for most includes attending a four-year business college.

And for most, like operations director Venier, that clarity was found in the program with their teacher.

“Before, I didn’t know at all what I wanted to do. It’s been a complete transformation,” Venier said.

“It’s a pleasure being with them,” says Presti (center) of his team. From left are department managers Stephen Hyer and Roy Dieudonne, Director of Operations Nicholas Venier, CEO Julio Mejia, and managers Karin Manukyan, Klea Papuli, Erum Zubair and Kelly Nelson. With them (at right) is UFT BASIS HS District Representative Thomas Bennett.

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