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Rotary Conference Helps Build Students’ Confidence in their Own Business Ideas

Leadership is prized in our culture, but most of us are left to figure out how to do it on our own. Rotary International’s Enterprise Leadership Conference (ELC) helps bridge that gap with a three-day program for high school juniors, guiding them through the steps of taking an idea and building a business around it. The program is at no cost for participants.

Each of the eight-person teams must create a business plan and present it to a panel of Rotary judges to get “virtual” funding for their business. During the conference, students learn from business leaders about how to build, manage and finance a company; how to manage product development, rollout and marketing; and how to work effectively in cooperative teams. Equally important, students learn how to give effective presentations designed to gain confidence and support from investors.

Held at the Asilomar Conference Center on the Monterey Peninsula in March, this year’s ELC was the second sponsored by the Enterprise Leadership Conference Silicon Valley West – which includes the Rotary Clubs of Campbell, Santa Clara, Saratoga, Sunnyvale, Sunnyvale Sunrise, Los Altos, Mountain View and San Jose East.

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Forty-eight students from 11 local high schools attended – including Santa Clara, Wilcox, and St. Lawrence High Schools, and Mission Middle College. The service clubs hope to expand the program to 60 students next year, according to program co-chair Miles Barber.

“This is a terrific opportunity for kids,” said Santa Clara Unified Superintendent Stan Rose at the April 3 Rotary meeting. “AB 26 [currently going through the California legislature] will provide planning and operational grants for career pathway programs. You [Rotary] help students make that connection. The importance of that cannot be overstated.”

Products conceived by this year’s students included an all-in-one washer-dryer with automatic detergent delivery, a voice-activated technology TeachMe app featuring visual instructions – something that would be likely to be a “must have” for anyone who’s recently acquired a new smartphone – a phone case that recharges the phone with kinetic energy, and a “mass-configurable” PC with interchangeable components that lets buyers configure their machine to their needs – for example, high performance or very long battery life.

“ELC is much different from other clubs,” said Santa Clara student Kevin Chow. You have to learn to accept other people’s ideas, and to work as a team. You get to see real-life business people. They gave me a lot of business insight.” Chow is interested in journalism, and perhaps what he learned at ELC will help him find a profitable business model for digital journalism.

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