Bruce Schmoetzer paced outside the judging booth, waiting for his team to finish its presentation.
Schmoetzer, a small-business owner, had mentored a group of 17- and 18-year-old Pasco students for several days during Enterprise Week activities.
The students led a fictional “company,” called Tanoak, to a top spot in one of the competitions.
“This is my sixth year, and this has been an amazing group,” Schmoetzer said.
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“They took the reins of this company and they took me at my word when I told them, ‘I’m a venture capitalist and I don’t have time to help you guys,’ ” he added.
It was hushed Thursday, as groups of teens gathered to make the final touches on their marketing plan presentations for judges sitting in booths along the wall of the rodeo arena.
About 850 Pasco, Chiawana and New Horizons high school seniors filled TRAC for the annual weeklong business simulation.
They were sorted randomly into teams of 16 or 17 students and were assigned a company type. They developed products, marketing plans, human resources manuals and website designs, and participated in team-building exercises.
They presented their work Thursday and took part in a stockholder meeting and trade show on Friday.
Across the hall, teams displayed their creativity with signs on the outside of curtained “offices.” Their mock businesses bore names like Ultimatum, Talk2Me and Media3. The posters included the addresses for Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages the students put together to sell the products.
The Tanoak team’s idea was a device that creates a personal wi-fi hotspot and a backpack able to recharge it.
“We had many, many great ideas, but these were the two that came out on top,” said Andrew Aung, 17, from Chiawana. “The backpack is just so modern ... and anyone can use it.”
Deb Thurston, the school district’s assistant director of career and college readiness, said the students were invested in their products, from a new way of connecting to the Internet to a bicycle company or socks.
“It comes down to being part of something,” Thurston said. “It’s that initial relationship building.”
The annual ritual for seniors in the Pasco School District started 17 years ago with Thurston’s interaction with Washington Business Week, a business simulation camp.
She attended the program at Eastern Washington University, but found that Pasco students weren’t interested in attending.
“They would sign up and then they would back out because their parents ... wouldn’t let them leave town,” Thurston said. “They didn’t want them to go to a dorm they didn’t know or didn’t understand, or a college campus that was foreign to them.”
Since Thurston couldn’t get the kids to the camp, she decided to bring the camp to the kids.
Schmoetzer returns each year for the moment when students realize they can make their own decisions.
“They’re used to being told what to do, and, by the end of the first day, they actually realize that I am not lying to them and they do get to make choices and they get to live with the consequences of those choices, and it’s OK,” he said.
The Tanoak members described the week as a great experience. Kiera Sanchez, 17, from Chiawana, said they started out not knowing each other, but came together as a team.
“We all thought it was going to be the worst week ever — and then we end up really enjoying it,” she said. “We would rather be here than at school.”
As the program goes strong in its second decade, Thurston is seeing the children of former students go through the program.
“It’s become a culture across Pasco,” she said. “People know that Enterprise is going to happen. They know that their kids will go to it, but the interesting thing is that the kids don’t really know what they’re coming to.”
Now, family members tell the students, “You just have to go,” she said.