High-school students in Kern County and across the state will demonstrate how well they can run a business this week.

The Rabobank Convention Center is hosting the annual Virtual Enterprises California State Conference and Exhibition on Wednesday and Thursday, during which teams of students will be judged in various competitions relating to virtual companies they have created.

Students will be judged based on the business plans they’ve written, sales techniques, marketing ability, salesmanship and more. Trophies for the top scorers in each competition will be given out on Thursday.

“The students have so much creativity, so many great ideas. They will blow your minds away with what they come up with,” said Jake Stuebbe, the regional director for Virtual Enterprises International and emcee for the competition. “The competition keeps getting better and better each year.”

This year, more than 1,000 students are expected to compete, making up around 70 businesses. The top six teams in the business plan competition will head to the national competition to be held in New York in April, Stuebbe said.

On Thursday, the public is invited to check out the trade show, where the students will be showing off and selling their products. They are also invited to attend the awards ceremony.

Students form their companies and plan for competitions through Virtual Enterprise classes offered through their schools. Virtual Enterprises International is a nonprofit organization that provides programs to schools across the nation where students can gain business experience through a virtual environment.

The Kern High School District was one of the first school districts to pilot the program in California.

“This program is about giving students real business experience in a virtual setting,” Stuebbe said. “The students are learning so much about working together as a team, how to do public speaking, how to sell. They’re learning how to work with money.”

Stuebbe said this year’s state competition has a few additions. On Wednesday night, participating students and teachers are invited to come to the downtown entertainment facility The BLVD to let off some steam prior to the start of the competition.

The Kern High School District has rented out the entire place for the night, Stuebbe said.

“We wanted to add a team-building/leadership component to it,” he said. “We want them to have a great time.”

Stuebbe said Virtual Enterprises is also making a more concerted effort in bringing business leaders to the competition. While Stuebbe said people were invited to attend on an individual level, this year the district will take them around the trade floor as a group so they can see what the students are doing. He said there will also be a business leader luncheon during the event.

“We want the business community to see what Virtual Enterprises has to offer these students,” he said. “They can give valuable feedback and advice to the students.”

Stuebbe said that regardless of how students perform in the competition, he believes it is a good learning experience for them.

“Even if they make mistakes, they can learn from what they’re doing,” he said. “They’re learning how business works before they get into real world. They will be way ahead most of their peers when they go to college.”

Joseph Luiz can be reached at 395-7368 or by email at jluiz@bakersfield.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @JLuiz_TBC. 

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