Terry Vay spent Friday morning as Rufus the Dog – a tactic she hoped would draw in big bucks for her company, Edumate Fusion.
Complete with large brown tail, sunglasses and catchy theme song, Vay enthusiastically helped her teammates attract investors to her educational-services company at a mock trade show, hosted by Gonzaga University, as part of the 30th annual Washington Business Week.
Vay, who had more than 130 other high school students to compete with, easily navigated the crowd of investors – about 25 business people from the Spokane area armed with $500,000 each in fake money.
She described her company as a way to improve education through grammar and math tutoring and with services such as SAT preparation courses. The company would do this through multimedia elements, such as DVDs featuring Rufus the Dog.
“We like to think about students’ education and where they want to be at,” said Vay, a high school junior from Tacoma. Horizon Credit Union Training Assistant Kelly Stapleton, a former adviser for the program who was asked to be an investor this year, said she was impressed with Edumate Fusion and chose to invest a portion of her funds in the company.
“Horizon gives a lot to children, so I liked their educational focus,” she said.
Washington Business Week, a nonprofit event held at Gonzaga University, Central Washington University in Ellensburg and Western Washington University in Bellingham, allows students to attend seminars led by business leaders, work in teams to develop a mock company and take part in what Steve Hyre, executive director of the program, described as real-world business decisions.
Hyre said the students have a “very intense week,” with daily schedules starting at 7 a.m. and ending at 9 p.m. Students live and eat in Gonzaga’s residence halls.
The $850 tuition is defrayed by sponsorship from companies such as Microsoft and McDonald’s. Anne Gately, the program’s donor and volunteer coordinator, said students are asked to pay a $295 registration fee, which can be waived.
“A lot of kids who don’t come, don’t because it is just too far for them,” Gately said. She added that Business Week will be expanding its program next year to include Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.
Friday’s trade show was the culmination of four days of effort by the students, who worked in groups of 10 to develop a product or service.
Brenda Bodeall, a Boeing employee and former Business Week participant, traveled from Renton, Wash., to be a group adviser. She said one of the key components of the project is for students to learn how to work in teams and do business research.
“They get to know their product really well,” she said. “Even my really shy girls are out there talking with investors.”
Joe Hyre, coordinator of the program and Steve Hyre’s son, said he was most impressed by The Dynamic Duo, a plastic bin that splits into a garbage and recycling receptacle.
“It was simple yet practical,” Joe Hyre said. “This is something an investor will be interested in.”
Jessi Plys, a recent high school graduate from Olympia, said the team got the idea from a demonstration by a 7-Eleven representative about a slushy machine that poured two flavors, but did not mix them.
“Because of the issues we’ve had with the economy lately, we’re trying to keep it simple,” she said. “It’s an issue that’s affected everyone.”
Some of Joe Hyre’s favorites from his nine years with the program are a toaster designed to toast any kind of bread and a roadside windmill system designed to use the wind from passing semitrucks to generate energy.
“I clue into the products that are designed to create a better world,” he said.
That’s one of the goals of Vay’s project, which she hopes will make it easier for people to learn. Vay, who hopes to be a pediatrician or nurse, said she would like to bring what she learned at Business Week back to her high school.
“I want to let them know that if we can do it, other students can do it too,” she said.