Challenge Accepted

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Students get a sense of the business world at Adelphi University

To come up with a great business plan is one thing. To do so in only an hour is rather daunting. But that’s the challenge more than 240 high school students were tasked with at Adelphi University’s Apprentice Challenge on Friday, Nov. 4. The competition, now in its 10th year, divided students from 27 different high schools into 24 different teams of about 10 members each. Teams were asked to develop a marketing strategy in one hour and present it to a panel of executives from companies such as Apple, Publishers Clearing House and Bed Bath and Beyond. Presentations were limited to four minutes, with three additional minutes allotted for judges’ questions.

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Westbury students worked together to come up with a business plan.

“The best part of this is that the kids get real world experience,” said Alan Cooper, the associate dean of Adelphi’s School of Business and one of the judges. “At their age, they think they know what they want to do, but they aren’t sure yet, so even though this is only a one-day thing, this helps them.”

The objective of this year’s competition was for teams to create a monthly subscription service geared towards ages 16 to 19. Naturally, several teams built their brands around sports equipment and school supplies. To add to the challenge at hand, students found themselves working with students they’d never met and were not notified of the task until the start of the competition. Several of the students expressed the lack of familiarity with their teammates as a challenge, but also an important step in their development.

“The hardest thing is you’re with people you don’t know, so crunching time is tough,” said Rachel Bernstein of Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK High School. “And you’re versing other teams that all have creative people. But meeting people with different backgrounds prepares you for the people you meet in the journey from college.”

“We know we’ve got to get down to business,” added Kenyatta Baird of Westbury High School. “You have to get along with people in the outside world or you won’t make it far.”

Others were less concerned with how well they knew their teammates and more concerned with the limited time they had to come up with a strategy.

The winners of the apprentice challenge.
The winners of the apprentice challenge.

“The real challenge is time,” said Aaron Rosenfeld of Syosset High School. Rosenfeld ended up being a part of the winning team, which also included students from North Shore Hebrew Academy High School in Great Neck. “It takes so much to come up with an idea. But we’re all moving towards a common goal. Everyone is competitive and that follows you for the rest of your life.”

According to Cooper, most of the participants are involved in the DECA business club and many are looking to have careers in business. But the competition can also have a positive impact on students who don’t have business careers on their horizons.

“It definitely helps,” said Katelynn Whitfield of H. Frank Carey High School in Franklin Square. “I don’t necessarily want to go into business. But everything you learn here can help anyone in any career.”

In the first round, two teams went head-to-head, giving presentations in conference rooms in front of two of the judges. One team from each conference room was selected to move on into the top 12. Afterward, the judges reconvened to select the top six and those teams then gave full presentations in the Adelphi Performing Arts Center in front of all of the students and judges. From there, one team was declared the winner. While it may seem easy to get caught up in all of the pressure, the judges offered words of wisdom before the competition began that was designed to put the students’ minds at ease. Much of the advice was strictly practical, but Chris Harris, the managing director at teamDigital Promotions, did his part to remind the students why they were there.

“Do what you love,” he said. “Follow your passions and you will be successful.”

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Joseph Catrone is the former editor of Farmingdale Observer, Hicksville News, Levittown Tribune and Massapequa Observer. He is also a contributing writer to Long Island Weekly and Anton Media Group's special sections.

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