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JA New York Business Plan Competition: From Classroom to Conference Room

Eleven years ago, Junior Achievement of New York developed a capstone program that would ultimately become a premier starting point for young entrepreneurs, igniting the spark in hundreds of high school students each year to pursue a career in business. The JA New York Business Plan Competition (BPC) was not only meant to be a lesson in the basics of entrepreneurship, but it was designed as an intense education program that inspires students to think far outside the box and prepare for a real-world business pitch to top New York City executives. And that’s exactly what it became.

Starting with the preliminary application round, over 150 student teams are paired with a corporate or community volunteer mentor – a businessperson who has the knowledge and experience to help the team fine-tune their business plan. After six-weeks of development, teams submit their written business plans to be evaluated by a pool of volunteer judges who will choose the strongest, most creative, and most innovative business plans to advance to the next round of competition.

After two rounds of judging, just under twenty teams are invited to compete in the semifinals. But the real competition happens during the final round where only six teams vie for the first place title. The teams that have made it this far have already surpassed dozens of other business plans; worked with veteran businesspeople one-on-one to perfect their pitches; and defended their ideas to a panel of judges made up of C-suite executives, founders of businesses, and marketing gurus.

The past ten years of BPC have introduced young, savvy businesspeople into the marketplace, ready to unleash their innovative ideas and abilities to transform the business world and the future of the economy. From classroom to conference room, many BPC alumni attribute much of their success in business to JA New York and the opportunities that it provided.


Jackson Finio, a 2012 BPC alumnus, co-founded Fund3, a hedge fund that employs machine learning algorithms to capitalize on the volatility of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Awad Sayeed, a 2008 BPC alumnus, is now the Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of Pixlee, a visual marketing platform that helps brands market and sell their products using real customer photos and videos. Both of these former BPC champions have incorporated the skills they learned throughout the competition into their careers, from the basics of writing a business plan to advocating for their ideas to high-profile investors.

We at Junior Achievement of New York are thrilled to watch as each year’s competitors go head to head because we know the results of BPC are undeniable. Alumni have turned their plans into reality, former BPC “CEO’s” have pursued the corner office in the real world, and thousands of students have left the bounds of high school with the knowledge of how to start a business and the confidence that they can.

 

What's Your Favorite Part of JA New York?

Danielle Hall is a member of Civic Corps, a division of NYC Service, working with Junior Achievement of New York for the 2017-18 year on the Programs team, helping to bring JA programming to the 85,000 students we serve across all regions.

We asked Danielle to share her favorite part about working with JA New York so far. Here's what she told us:

Since I started working at Junior Achievement of New York, I've had the experience of working with and coming into contact with a lot of great people and volunteers. Specifically, I've had the opportunity to work with their High School Heroes (HSH) program, which is designed for high school students to go into classrooms to teach elementary school programs for the day. They get to go into local schools in their community and earn a total of eight community service hours.

One of the most interesting parts of HSH is going to the trainings and observing how nervous the students often are about teaching younger children. The student volunteers sometimes doubt themselves during the trainings; however, the moment they get to the school and are in the classrooms, they rise to the challenge and become teachers for the day.

Being at these trainings and events I have seen a lot of 'aha' moments with our student volunteers. Usually half-way through the day, they've shaken off initial nerves and express how much fun they are having or how smart and well-behaved their classes are. By the end of the day, most, if not all, of the volunteers express they would love to return to do more events and that they have learned so much from being role models to these younger children.

I've seen students' attitudes change so much from the initial trainings to the events and afterwards. They often realize they had no reason to be nervous, and as long as they've prepared their JA materials with their group or partners, everything goes easily.

In addition, it's always so fun and encouraging to see how happy and enthusiastic the elementary school teachers and younger students are to have JA High School Heroes at their schools. HSH events are fun for everyone, including the JA staff, knowing that our student volunteers are contributing their time to teach younger generations about financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and career readiness, and ultimately walk away with more confidence and knowledge themselves.

A Win-Win for All: How Volunteering Sets Off a Chain Reaction

It’s no secret that volunteering is a beneficial act of kindness.
 
Many non-profit organizations achieve their missions with the help of dedicated volunteers, and the recipients of their services often leave with a new personal connection, a newly learned skill, or more confidence from a positive interaction –  just a few of the countless possible outcomes. For years, the act of volunteering has been known to offer intangible benefits to those who give their time to others, such as pride, satisfaction, and a sense of accomplishment – the road to being a do-gooder.[1] But what about the other benefits – the ones we can actually see and measure?
 
As the United States economy evolves, for-profit companies have recognized the growing importance of employee volunteer programs. The newest hires – Millennial college graduates – are a generation of young people who value the opportunity to make a positive impact on the world more highly than other benefits offered by corporate careers.[2] Employees are happier and more likely to stay at companies that align with their personal values, ultimately influencing employee retention rates: 75% of employees say that their jobs are more fulfilling when their companies offer opportunities to make a difference.[3]
 
When workers spend time volunteering with skills-based organizations, such as Junior Achievement, they improve the lives of other people while developing leadership skills and strengthening technical skills that make them even more successful in their own professional environment. A 2016 Impact Survey conducted by Deloitte shows that any type of volunteering that helps cultivate professional skills results in significantly higher productivity.[4] It’s no wonder that more and more companies each year are incorporating volunteer opportunities into their corporate culture.
 
When it comes to the personal impact volunteering has, results are harder to quantify. Yet studies show that by volunteering with an organization, people build empathy and strengthen their ability to form social bonds, ultimately making them happier.[5] Plus, a study by the Corporation for National and Community Service proves there is a strong connection with good health; volunteers have “lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression.”[6] In short, volunteering is a great way to improve your physiological health.
 
Put simply, the act of volunteering is a win for everyone involved: the non-profit organization, the recipient of the service, for-profit companies, and the volunteers themselves. When working with Junior Achievement in particular, volunteers actively improve the future of the global economy by teaching K-12 students how money, careers and business ownership work. Junior Achievement alumni are two and a half times more likely to be involved with starting a business than the general public, thus creating jobs, offering new goods and services to consumers, promoting social mobility, and contributing to the economy as a whole. And this chain reaction begins with one person: a volunteer.
 
If you are interested in making a difference in the lives of the 85,000 students that Junior Achievement of New York reaches each year in New York City, Long Island, and the Lower Hudson Valley – as well as your own life – click here to get started.
 
 
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JA New York Student Alumni Feature - Sisi Peng

Each Junior Achievement program is specially designed to empower students to build their future and recognize their potential.

“Sisi
Sisi Peng

Through hands-on experiences and mentorship from top business executives, many students are inspired to pursue various careers in entrepreneurship, finance, and other industries that spark their intellectual curiosity. One program in particular, the JA New York Business Plan Competition (BPC), is proven to give high school students the exposure and confidence to dig into their entrepreneurial spirit and ultimately cultivate the transferable skills all young people in the workforce need.

Sisi Peng, JA New York alumna and Brooklyn Technical High School graduate, credits many of her academic and career choices to her participation in BPC during her junior and senior years of high school. Sisi and her teammates were proud to pitch their business ideas at NASDAQ Times Square both years as finalists in the competition. Taking initiative to own her potential, she would eventually overcome a personal challenge by speaking publicly in front of a large audience and distinguished judges while defending her team’s business plans. The highly competitive nature of BPC challenged Sisi and her team to think outside the box and fully understand each component necessary to start and run a successful business. They had to think strategically, both short-term and long-term. Throughout the entire process, Sisi improved her leadership and public speaking skills and her ability to work in a productive team environment – all of which are essential skills in college and beyond.

Sisi’s ambition followed her as she embarked on her college journey at Cornell University. Although she entered the Ithaca Green expecting to study Biology and Society, Sisi later transferred to their Communications program. This change was in part due to her entrepreneurial mindset sparked by her participation with JA New York. Now a Cornell alumna, Sisi works for inVentiv Health PR Group, employing all the skills she learned during her time with Junior Achievement of New York.

Sisi speaking on the Alumni Panel at JA New York Business Plan Competition Finals, June 2017

 

Thanks to Sisi’s commitment to make the most of her own education by participating in programs like the Business Plan Competition, she developed the confidence and creativity to carry her from the start of her career into wherever her future experiences take her in the working world. Lessons learned from the Business Plan Competition have empowered her to make smart academic and personal economic choices. For many students like Sisi, Junior Achievement programs bridge the gap between what is taught in the classroom and what is expected of young people entering the workforce and gives them the opportunity to cultivate the skills they need to become confident and savvy leaders in a global economy.

JA New York Student Alumni Feature - Jackson Finio

Jackson speaking on the Alumni Panel to BPC finalists, June 2017

Each year, hundreds of students submit their business plans to Junior Achievement of New York, hoping theirs will stick out, catch a judge’s eye, and ultimately take home the first place prize.

Conceived in 2008, the JA New York Business Plan Competition (BPC) is designed to give high school students the opportunity to learn hands-on how to build a business plan from the ground up and what it takes to earn the trust of others in the world of entrepreneurship. With the mentorship of corporate volunteers, each finalist group competes in a Shark Tank-like fashion, and, as every entrepreneur can vouch for, sometimes it takes a few tries to get it right. Just ask Jackson Finio, 2013 graduate of the Bronx High School of Science and JA New York alumnus.

Jackson spent his final three years of high school dedicated to developing business plans for the JA New York competition. Between 2011 and 2013, Jackson and his team competed in the Finals round of BPC three times, placing second in both 2011 and 2012. For their senior year, after years of hard work and preparation, Jackson and his teammates finally became the first place winners. That year represents more than just a winning year for Jackson’s team; it was the culmination of three years’ worth of research, planning, re-planning, and pitching their ideas.

Now, not only is Jackson a graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in Computer Science and Business Administration, he is a co-founder of Fund3, a hedge fund that employs machine learning algorithms to capitalize on the volatility of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. In addition to earning significant bragging rights and prize money, Jackson credits JA New York’s Business Plan Competition for pushing him towards his career. He and his high school teammates looked into how they could turn their ideas into actions after their big win, but soon realized they were lacking both capital and technical training. Because of this, Jackson turned to computer science in college to gain the knowledge he would need to bring his ideas to life; when he partnered with other engineers during his senior year to found Fund3, he did just that.

Jackson with his teammates after winning 1st Place in BPC, May 2013

As a successful young entrepreneur, Jackson embodies Junior Achievement’s mission to empower young people to own their economic success. Throughout his years of participating in BPC, he gained the real-world experience he needed to discover his passion and form his own path to entrepreneurial accomplishment. Jackson looks back on those three years and hopes that as a JA New York alumnus, he can help bring other students the same opportunity he had to leave his comfort zone and feel empowered to take the risks necessary to build a successful future.

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  • "JA activities support our college and career readiness expectations as they bridge connections to real world experiences and professions" – Hazel Cruz, PS 83

    -Junior Achievement Teacher
  • "I learned that running a business includes a lot of work! You have to know how to run it, how much to pay your employees and much more." – PS 83

    -Junior Achievement Student
  • "Guess what? A volunteer from Junior Achievement came to my class! I learned that cities are places to live, eat, work and play." – Justin, PS 83

    -Junior Achievement Student
  • "Junior Achievement has given me my blueprint for success in college and beyond. JA has allowed me to grow as a student, entrepreneur, and as a future college student." – Kaiyell Pettie

    -Junior Achievement Alumnus
  • "JA volunteers give children tangible examples of the unlimited opportunities available to them."

    -Junior Achievement Volunteer