They could have been sitting by the pool or shopping at the mall, but 67 high school students from across the country were in Midtown on a sweltering late-July day working on business plans for mock restaurants and Laundromat businesses they were trying to get off the ground.
Like contestants on “The Apprentice,” they were trying to impress a discerning panel of judges, this one from a Baruch College entrepreneurial center addressing considerations like target demographics, marketing strategies and expenses such as salaries, insurance, utilities and upkeep.
It was all part of a B’nai B’rith Youth Organization-sponsored summer internship program, in its second year, that brought the students face to face with the high-powered, cut-throat world of New York City.
The students were able to meet business professionals here, visit active workplaces, participate in team-building activities and work in groups to create their own detailed business plan to pitch to the panel.
“The goal of the week was to provide every participant with three things: an authentic New York experience, an authentic business experience and an authentic Jewish experience,” said Lander Gold, a BBYO Friends & Alumni Network Associate and a staff member on the trip.
Their first full day was loaded with speeches and lectures, part of a curriculum designed and implemented by Monica Dean, the administrative director for the Lawrence N. Field Center for Entrepreneurship at Baruch.
The teens’ business acumen and quick-thinking skills were tested immediately, when “they were asked to created a 30-second ‘elevator pitch’ to the group — for the person sitting next to them,” said Dean, explaining one of the many hands-on team-building activities the teens encountered throughout the day.
Later in the first day, the participants split up into groups, and with minimal instructions and a few guidelines, began creating business plans to present at the end of the program.
Little did they know they would encounter many problems that plague real-life entrepreneurs.
“It took a lot of time to come up with the idea,” said Aaron Berkovich, 17, of San Diego, “and my computer kept crashing. I had to redo two slides on the way this morning,” he said laughingly.
“In the beginning there was a lot of fighting,” recounted Dani Stahler, 16, of Colorado Springs, Colo., “and people were stuck on one idea that wasn’t going to work, but we eventually worked it all out.”
“I think it’s amazing how so many kids from all over the world worked together,” said Marc Phillips, 17, of Wyckoff, N.J.
On their last full day with the program, each group presented complete business plans to a panel of judges.
“I was extremely impressed with the concepts,” said Dean, who served as a judge alongside five others, including BBYO’s international chief financial and administrative officer, Craig Mintz, and Morris Sandler, CEO of Standard Steam Trust, the largest geothermal electric producer in the West.
Prizes were awarded to three teams, with the winners receiving gift cards to various stores.
In addition to the work component, the ‘authentic New York’ experience included trips to the Statue of Liberty, the Top of the Rock observation deck, a NY Waterway Harbor Tour and the Broadway musical “Hairspray.”
“I’ve never been to New York before,” said Stahler. “Seeing ‘Hairspray’ was awesome.”
The teens, from a wide spectrum of Jewish backgrounds, also got a taste of New York Jewish life, both throughout the week and on Shabbat, with a Lower East Side walking tour and visits to the Hillels at New York University and Columbia University.
“We had services on Shabbos at Hebrew Union College, and the Synagogue for the Arts,” said Richard Kessler, BBYO Milwaukee area executive, “and we also did a Jewish identity exercise, discussing the relevance of Israel and other aspects of Judaism to their lives.”
The program, which has grown exponentially from just 19 participants last year, “has potential for maximum growth,” said Gold, stressing the educational impact of the trip.
It’s a sure thing the program will continue, as participants provided largely positive feedback throughout the week in what Kessler called “a constant feedback loop.”
“This program has given me a clear business sense how to succeed,” said Phillips, “and to be an innovator not a follower.”