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Learning the business

Sat., July 18, 2009

High schoolers spend week developing plans, pitches

Breaking Barriers is the name of CEO Spencer White’s mobile HIV immunization company.

“It’s a very applicable way to solve the concern,” White said. Teresa Jiang, one of his executives, added: “It’s an easy way to improve health conditions.”

Of course, such a vaccination hasn’t been developed. The company is in the imagination stages, too – the brainchild of 10 teenagers attending the 33rd annual Business Week.

White, a soon-to-be junior at University High School, was among 250 teens – sophomores through seniors – involved in the weeklong program. Each group of 10 came up with a different business plan.

Other product ideas: an orb that tests air quality, an iPhone-size device that can determine illnesses by scanning a finger as well as providing nutrition and exercise plans, and a pocket-size device that scans a clothing item in a store and tells you every piece of your wardrobe it coordinates with.

They converged on Gonzaga University’s campus from all over the state Sunday and divided into teams in two areas – business and health care.

“None of the kids know each other, but it’s about teaching them to work together like they would be in real life,” said Bryce Wilkinson, a U.S. Bank commercial lender who has volunteered for Business Week for several years.

The teams were then paired with company advisers – members of the business and health care work force from throughout the state.

On Tuesday, each received a packet about an issue. For White’s team, it was HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The team had to figure out a way to “address it, fix it and advertise it.” The teams and their advisers worked 13-hour days until Friday, when they gave their presentations and participated in a trade show to secure pretend money from investors.

“The hardest part was time management,” said White, who wants to be a neurosurgeon. He said he participated in Business Week because he wants “be knowledgeable” about how a company works, and maybe have his own clinic someday. Others said they learned how to cut costs without cutting corners, budgeting and staffing.

Shawn Sicilia, a Premera Blue Cross employee, served as a company adviser. “I came here thinking I was going to be the teacher and they were going to be the students, but I ended up being the student,” Sicilia said. “It was amazing.”

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