'Virtual Enterprises' Teach Students the Basics of Business

The words "Xtreme Adrenaline Rush" flashed onto the large screen. Vice President of Human Resources Amber Blanchette stepped in front of the small audience to promote the business that she helped launch just a few months ago.

The company's products include parasailing, wind surfing, kayaking, wakeboarding and even shark-cage diving.

Reading from her computer presentation in Power Point, Blanchette said the business offers "'Xtreme' services that will create an 'adrenaline rush' of unordinary excitement and an opportunity for self-expression for our customers."

But for thrill-seekers out there, a warning: "Xtreme Adrenaline Rush" is a virtual company. It opened with a pretend loan. It's based at Menchville High School. And students run the company.

It's part of a program new to Menchville High this school year called Virtual Enterprise International, or VEI. Menchville is the first school in Virginia to offer it to students.

On a recent morning at a Menchville High classroom, 17-year-old junior Blanchette and other students involved with VEI highlighted their work for school administrators, business partners and classmates.

There are 3,000 VEI businesses around the world. Two are at Menchville High, run by 25 marketing and 25 business students.

Marketing students created Xtreme Adrenaline Rush. Business students dreamed up a firm called CD Productions, a business producing the lowest prices possible for the top 10 CDs in music categories ranging from rock to classical.

VEI started with countries in Europe. There are virtual firms in places like Germany, Denmark, Austria and Norway. In the United States, there are businesses in states such as Oklahoma, South Carolina, New Jersey, California and New York.

Each student has a position in a VEI company. Students draft resumes and interview for jobs that are in any number of departments: Accounting. Administration. Advertising. Human Resources. Purchasing. Sales.

Students choose a product and develop an extensive business plan. Then they apply for a loan. For Menchville students, the virtual bank is in New York, a state with significant involvement in VEI. Coordinators of the program there approved loans exceeding $40,000 for the Menchville businesses.

In five years, Menchville's virtual businesses must make enough of a profit to pay off the loan. Students mainly run their businesses through the Internet. Students develop company Web pages, and that's how the fledgling businessmen and women learn about different VEI firms. Then the students in VEI classrooms across the world join in virtual trading.

Each student is paid a salary. The pay ranges from about $8 to $20 per hour. If a student fails to come to class, he doesn't get paid that day.

Students must buy from and sell to each other. With their salaries, they're required to make five purchases in nine weeks. VEI firms sell everything from bottled water to bikes.

"Students are making the decisions, doing problem solving and they are taking ownership," Menchville marketing teacher Gary Sealey said. "That's what is so exciting to me as a teacher. A lot of times, it's hard to decipher whether it's virtual or real."

Menchville's marketing class, for example, researched their competition.

"We did have one major competitor," Blanchette explained.

That company, based in California, specialized in extreme water sports such as boats and personal watercraft.

"They think Jet Skiing is extreme," Blanchette scoffed.

The competition's estimated sales for the first year totaled more than $540,000, exceeding the company's projection, she said.

As Menchville students got their companies up and running, they sought the advice of business partners at places like Ferguson Enterprise, Newport News Shipbuilding and Jefferson Lab. For example, a Jefferson Lab employee helped the students craft their company Web pages.

Xtreme Adrenaline Rush Vice President of Technology Nick Grages explained his company's site is still under construction as his department works to translate it into German.

Students give the program rave reviews. They say it was hard but fun. And they learned a lot. Some said they've changed their career plans because of it. Sixteen-year-old Shannon Richardson is one of them. She is both a marketing and business student. So, she wound up working as vice president of administration for CD Productions and president of Xtreme Adrenaline Rush.

Before this year, she considered a career in marketing. Now she wants to earn a degree in business management with a minor in public relations.

She praises the program for preparing students for work.

"You learn the real world," she said. "It's not just play. This stuff really happens."