Virtual Enterprises International has created a digital, international economy of 7,000+ student-run businesses in 40+ countries. Students in Hernando and Pinellas schools are using this digital economy to launch and manage the growth of a student-run company.
Programs like VEI open pathways for students to explore certificates, degrees and careers. The 2023 Tampa Bay State of the Region Report reports that nearly one in eight (12.19%) Tampa Bay residents aged 16-24 are neither employed nor enrolled in school. Our region ranks 19th out of 20 comparison cities for educational attainment for all degrees, despite year-over-year progress. In addition, labor force participation in Tampa Bay lags behind the national average.
Students in VEI’s program develop their own businesses, and they operate their businesses as large corporations with a myriad of departments, including information technology, marketing, human resources, and more. They also seek out investors, look for customers, and manage their businesses’ finances.
“This is the class that you wish you had in high school,” said Jillian Berg, VEI Managing Director of Network Development & Southern Regional Director.
Guided by Virtual Enterprises’ educational framework, students learn new skills, grow their knowledge, and adopt fresh mindsets as employees, workgroup members, and department teams. They learn how to contribute to the success and challenges in meeting company goals.
“We know that not every student is going to become an entrepreneur, so we focus on teaching teamwork, or as we call it, intrapenuership [behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization],” said Berg. “We want students to know that they can share their thoughts and ideas and still be successful within that company instead of starting their own business.”
In managing the day-to-day operations of a virtual company, students develop business skills and an entrepreneurial mindset. They also develop skills, competencies and experiences that can help them when applying to post-secondary institutions and for jobs with potential employers.
For example, students focusing on finance are making sure there is money coming in to run the business. Meanwhile, accounting students are making sure payroll is paid.
“This is more than a high school class. What participants receive is tangible and will give them leverage as they pursue higher education and employment,” said Katie Shultz, EdD, Community Foundation Tampa Bay’s Senior Director of Community Investments. “Students who complete the year-long program earn valuable and recognizable certifications, like Entrepreneurship Small Business, Intuit Design for Delight, and Intuit Quickbooks.”
Throughout the program, students explore and test potential careers. The career exploration helps students identify career pathways that align with their interests, talents, and aspirations. The competencies that students learn through Virtual Enterprises are strongly linked to their lifelong educational, economic, and professional success.
“Students love the independence of the project. The teacher is merely a facilitator. The teacher really takes a step back from the day-to-day and allows the students the ability to sink or swim,” says Jillian Berg, VEI Managing Director of Network Development & Southern Regional Director. “They watch their ideas grow and succeed within the network of the virtual economic ecosystem.”
Currently, VEI facilitates 28 high school programs and 20 middle school programs across Florida. The Tampa Bay region has 15 middle and high school programs in Hernando County and in Pinellas County’s Northeast and Clearwater High Schools. VEI plans to expand in 2023 into middle and high schools in Palm Harbor, Largo and St. Petersburg.
Based on the program’s impact, the Community Foundation Tampa Bay awarded $15,000 to Virtual Enterprises International for Hernando County schools in its 2022 competitive grant cycle. The grant was one of 10 awarded for Economic Mobility. Under this targeted focus area, the Community Foundation Tampa Bay funded projects that foster skills that are necessary in today’s economic environment.
“Programs like VEI gives students the financial and entrepreneurial groundings they need to lead successful businesses or be managers in the future workplace,” says Shultz. “VEI, as the Foundation sees it, is a great step to give our kids the tools they need to give back to a community giving for them.”
For more information on the Community Foundation Tampa Bay’s competitive grant process or to apply, please visit the Annual Competitive Grants page. For more in Virtual Enterprises International, please visit veinternational.org.