School, meet company

Steinbeis Transfer Center breaks new ground in business games

Political debates over education are increasingly turning the spotlight on how schools and companies can work together to mutual benefit. Discussions on how students leave school unprepared for their professions, the dropout rate and graduates’ lacking sense of direction indicate just how important it is for students to figure out what’s next – while still in school. Since this did not previously fall within the schools’ primary mandate, innovative ideas and support services need to come from other sources. This is what prompted the Steinbeis Transfer Center Business Development at the University of Pforzheim to develop business games for high school students. The Center is breaking new ground by offering this new instructional and learning tool to blended teams of trainees and high school students.

Business administration games help teenagers learn about the world of business in a fun environment. At the same time, these games impart experience and knowledge while encouraging young people to think and act for themselves. This is a good fit with what companies require – companies who are looking for opportunities to bring top talent on board. As a result, they can nurture teenagers’ interest in their company at an early stage. Business games that blend teams of high school students and apprentices help shape a sense of professional direction while identifying young people with plenty of potential. Content forms the cornerstone of every game, and all share three objectives:

  • Working together across disciplines and types of schools: Interdisciplinary work is an integral part of today’s world of employment. High school students and apprentices play on the same team – they don’t compete against each other. How various team members’ strengths come together makes up the flow of the business game.
  • Honing critical thinking skills: The highly sought-after specialists of tomorrow will need to be able to synthesize information from complex relationships in business.
  • Bringing entrepreneurial thinking to life: Every company wants employees who are self-starters, take ownership, think about their actions, and do their part to drive the business. This behavior can be groomed during high school and apprenticeship programs.

Every team of young entrepreneurs is tasked with positioning a company against its competitors in the market; in the next stage, the team must navigate its company as successfully as possible through four simulated years of business. In one business game day, teams of six young entrepreneurs play against up to nine other teams. Market competition, economic activity and the effects of the teams’ decisions are depicted via computer simulation.

The Northern Black Forest Cup

The idea of a business game featuring blended teams of high school students and apprentices debuted in a pilot project in association with the German city of Mühlacker. Snapped up by the Northern Black Forest economic development association, the project moved onto a larger stage. 2010 is the third year of the Northern Black Forest Cup (Nordschwarzwald Cup) competition.

Although the high school students and apprentices had to form teams and cope with the challenges of a business game on a Saturday, the atmosphere of the four rounds of competition remained laid-back. What do the high school students and apprentices experience during business games like this? One participant summarized: “The material prizes we could win were nothing compared to the experiences we gained and the fun we had. […] Over the course of the day, we realized again and again how ‘serious’ and real this all had become. We’d been talking about ‘our money’ the entire time, or ‘all those bikes lying around in the warehouse’. […] Maybe not tonight, but maybe tomorrow we’ll wake up and realize that considering we knew nothing about business administration, balance sheets and assets, we did really well!” 

Another success for “Youth Start-Ups”

Young founders make waves in Baden-Württemberg

There are now lots of school competitions, and people seem to be constantly thinking up new ones. But it is rare for a school competition to be as successful as the “Youth Start-Ups” project, which is run by the Steinbeis Innovation Center at Pforzheim University and sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. “Youth Start-Ups” has become the only business-based competition to be added to a national list of core school competitions by the KMK (the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the German Federal States).

The number of active participants in the 2009/10 round of the competition was 3,593. The Steinbeis Foundation has supported the competition from the outset by sponsoring the main prize. Once again this year, the winners will be taken on a trip to the United States, where a unique study trip awaits them in Silicon Valley.

The theme of the competition is “Business in schools”. Students found virtual companies based on innovations . The overall aim of the Youth Start-Ups project is to engender interest among young people in entrepreneurship – as people willing to take entrepreneurial action will play an increasingly central role in the working environment of tomorrow. Affluence and employment will not be created by knowledge alone, but by the entrepreneurial application of innovation.

The Youth Start-Ups project can train young people to think and act entrepreneurially, arming them with skills for their future careers. The Youth Start-Ups competition is open to apprentices and young adults in their final 2–3 years of secondary school (or about to start an apprenticeship). The typical age range is 16–21. Participants are encouraged to teach themselves about how to start and developing a business.

The first stages of the competition involve drafting a convincing business plan for the innovative product, trading concept or service. This business plan lays the foundations for the second stage: the business simulation. Now participants pit their wits in the market against virtual competitors. Business decisions have to be made as students experience peaks and troughs and witness the effect their decisions have on the company. The best teams from both stages of the competition make it to the final. 

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