Campaign season is in full swing. Republican and Democratic presidential candidates from Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton are all seen fiercely debating over issues of national importance including the revival of the economy and creation of new businesses and jobs. Promises of bringing back the millions of American jobs lost to China and creation of countless new businesses and jobs through investments in public infrastructure are seen as hope by some and just campaign rhetoric by others.
High school students in the State of Maryland, it seems, don’t want to leave things to chance. They are pitching in to play their part in creating new businesses in America – not in rhetoric, but in action. Taking upon themselves the challenge of stimulating entrepreneurship among peer high schoolers all across the nation, they seem adamant at proving through action that high school students, as young as 15, can start businesses of tomorrow and contribute to the economy.
A competition for and by high school students
Inspired by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne’s bestselling book Blue Ocean Strategy, Nicholas Benavides, a high school junior from Ellicott City, Maryland started just two years back, what is now set to become the country’s largest entrepreneurship competition run for and by high school students. It’s the Blue Ocean Entrepreneurship Competition bringing together high school participants from four different states this April.
They feel proud of their contribution in addressing one of the nation’s biggest concerns: the creation of new businesses and jobs. Not just in rhetoric, but in action.
The competition challenges high school students to come up with an 8-minute pitch for a blue ocean business idea – one that stands apart from the competition; delivers innovative value at low cost; and produces win-win outcomes for everyone involved. It also encourages students to operationalize their blue ocean ideas into commercially viable businesses.
A participant pitching her blue ocean business idea.
“It is not just about creating businesses, one more pizza store or one more of something, but really to embrace the idea of blue oceans so that as you start thinking about business, you don’t do what everybody else is doing; you don’t solve the same problems that have been solved in the same way”, says Nestor Benavides, President of the Maryland-based environmental consulting firm EMG Group and a volunteer judge for the competition. “If the students can embrace the simple concept, that there are red oceans and there are blue oceans and just to be aware of that as a starting point to look for opportunities where there is no competition. This could potentially and likely change the entire trajectory of the businesses they create.”
They are pitching in to play their part in creating new businesses in America – not in rhetoric, but in action.
Nicholas Benavides, a high school junior from Ellicott City, Maryland started just two years back, what is now set to become the country’s largest entrepreneurship competition run for and by high school students.
From statewide to cross-state
Organized by a seven student committee, the first blue ocean competition run at the county level in 2014, succeeded in inspiring student teams from high schools across Howard County to come pitch their blue ocean business ideas. Expanding in scope the following year, the students organized the first-ever statewide entrepreneurship competition for high school students, bringing together 65 teams from 23 high schools from all across the state of Maryland.
Its overwhelming success led the organizing team to expand the Blue Ocean Entrepreneurship Competition still further this year. It is now attracting student participants from four states – Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Delaware. Which is to say in the space of just three years the competition leaped from the county level to the state level and now to the cross-state level.
The tremendous success encouraged the organizers to open the competition up to a cross-state level.
The competition is sponsored and funded by businesses and organizations that the students personally reach out to and judged by business leaders and successful entrepreneurs in the community volunteering to support the student-run initiative. The students have succeeded in garnering tremendous support from organizations such as Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, Howard County Economic Development Council, Venture Board as well as from the authors of Blue Ocean Strategy, who have personally appeared to address, inspire and encourage the young blue ocean entrepreneurs contemplating an early start in the business world.
In the space of just three years the competition leaped from the county level to the state level and now to the cross-state level.
Through workshops conducted by local businesses, the students are exposed to the various facets of entrepreneurship and business start-ups; including blue ocean strategic thinking and its tools and frameworks that help them unlock new market spaces or blue oceans with business ideas that stand apart and create exceptional value.
A step ahead in college applications
This student-led initiative has received applaud from both local press in Maryland, as well as international media. It has continued to grow in influence and scope every year since its inception. Graduating students in the organizing committee pass on the baton to their younger peers who eagerly take on the challenge of continuing with the mission and to extend its influence.
Three of the six graduating students on the organizing committee got accepted for admission in Stanford.
What inspires them? Involvement in the process of organizing and running a competition at such a large scale, arms them with highly coveted leadership and entrepreneurial skills that help them stand out in college applications – three of the six graduating students on the organizing committee got accepted for admission in Stanford alone last year, with another two choosing to join other prestigious schools such as Caltech and Swarthmore.
Kunal Pathade and Pranav Ganapathy.
Pranav Ganapathy and Andrew Deng, Centennial High seniors, are spearheading the competition this year with a 13-student committee spread across various high schools in Maryland. The potential of the competition to unleash the creativity of young minds for finding creative business solutions to real world problems excites them.
“The blue ocean competition is more than just a one-day event. It’s the idea that students like you and me can create unique solutions to real problems in the world. That’s pretty powerful!”, Ganapathy says to his peers.
They also feel proud of their contribution in addressing one of the nation’s biggest concerns: the creation of new businesses and jobs. Not just in rhetoric, but in action.
“While politicians frequently debate about how to solve the economic crisis, we think the answer is clear: encourage young people to become blue ocean entrepreneurs, create companies and bring their ideas to life. Jobs and growth will come right along with it.”-Pranav Ganapathy
There is aim: to take the competition nationwide in 2017.