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Costa Mesa High students win first place for business

Virtual Enterprise class makes pollution-offset company that installs compost toilets in developing nations.

May 04, 2011|By Britney Barnes, britney.barnes@latimes.com
  • The Virtual Enterprise Team, in blue shirts at front, and their classmates in the Costa Mesa High School Virtual Enterprise class recently won first place in the National Business Plan competition in New York.
The Virtual Enterprise Team, in blue shirts at front,… (KENT TREPTOW, Daily…)

COSTA MESA — A group of high-school seniors brought home a national first-place title for creating an environmentally friendly business.

"We're not supposed to be winning championships, but we do," said Business Academy teacher Mike Sciacca. "We don't have as much money as wealthier schools, but our kids just chose to win … I hope they realize success is a choice."

One of Costa Mesa High School's Virtual Enterprise classes created Sanatorius, a pollution-offset company that installs compost toilets in developing countries. The student project nabbed first in the business plan competition last month in New York.

The students started with an idea, which for Sanatorius was a mash-up of two ideas based on a documentary, "The World's Toilet Crisis," and a "King of the Hill" episode on pollution-offsetting.

The class' business plan team represented the class of 28 students in New York. The team was comprised of Chief Executive Joshua Knox, 18; Chief Financial Officer Lisa Mai, 17; Vice President of Sales Dillon Escobar, 17; Vice President of Marketing Anna Alvarado, 18; Vice President of Accounting Angeline Hong, 17; and Director of Operations Lisandro Barajas, 18.

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"It was really exciting because we worked so hard for it," Lisa said. "We literally came in on breaks and birthdays and Christmas break to work on it."

Virtual Enterprise is a senior-level class that allows students to wet their feet in the world of business by creating and running a mock company.

At Costa Mesa High, it is the culmination of a three-class pathway, although students who haven't taken the other classes can still join, Sciacca said.

While in New York, the business plan caught the interest of industry professionals, who encouraged the students to bring Sanatorius to life — a shock to the students.

"It was astonishing to realize that people in actual businesses thought that we could actually be a real business," Joshua said.

Once they decided on an idea, the students created a business plan and interviewed for positions in the company in front of a panel of industry professionals, past students and teachers, Sciacca said.

"We want to simulate the real world," he said.

From there, the students took off, Sciacca said, adding that he transitioned from teacher to consultant.

The students completely run the class and set the pace, determining whether each day will hold a pizza party or work, Sciacca said.

The student chose work and spent so much time in the classroom that, even after the project's completion, some of the students just keep showing up, Sciacca said.

Since the class began, it has been a crash course in patience, leadership, working with opposing personalities, public speaking and time management, the students said.

The idea is not just to prepare the students for business, which many of them won't go into, but to give them transferable skills, Sciacca said.

"This class prepares you for basically any career path you want to do," said Lisandro.

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