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Southold students earn top honors at Youth Business Summit in NYC

A “sleepy” idea developed by students at Southold High School earned top honors at a nationwide business competition earlier this month.

Seniors in the virtual enterprise course created Doze, which won first place for their marketing plan, eighth in the nation for their business plan and was a national qualifier for their finance and human resources departments at the 2022 Youth Business Summit in New York City held April 4-6.

Doze is an all-natural sleep drop made with magnesium, valerian root, chamomile, melatonin and hemp extract.

Students developed the idea for the lozenge — think of a cough drop, but for sleep — after polling fellow students, teachers and community members at the beginning of the school year about challenges they face, seeking to come up with a product to address them.

“Sleep and stress was one of the leading problems that students, faculty members and community members faced,” said senior Naomi Cichanowicz, who handled marketing and public relations for their team.

The yearlong Virtual Enterprise program transforms classrooms into mini companies that are developed from the ground up, covering everything from product development to design and packaging, production partners and implementing a business plan. It also touches on adjacent skills like marketing, web design, management and public speaking.

English teacher Jessica Ellwood currently teaches the course to the group of 11 seniors. “What I love about [the program] is that it helps kids develop real world skills,” Ms. Ellwood said. “It helps them realize the kinds of things that they’re good at outside of the classroom.”

Students were able to connect with many local businesses who pledged support with both real and virtual dollars to get their project off the ground. Guest speakers are also invited to class to share tips on everything from personal marketing and using sites like LinkedIn to how the hemp industry works in real life.

“It’s good to have actual business mentors so you aren’t just doing this out of a textbook,” Ms. Ellwood said. “You’re actually connecting with the community and learning.”

For example, Jon Fabb from Oregon Road Organics was their “production partner” and presented to the class about state regulations on hemp as well as the difference between CBD and hemp extract. “We had a lot of community members help out and it was super insightful,” Naomi said.

This year marks the first time in school history that the virtual enterprise team made it to nationals. They first had to submit written plans and participate in multiple rounds of virtual presentations via Zoom that began in December in order to qualify.

During the competition, the finance plan was presented by Angelina Bokina, human resources by Landon Bennett, business plan by Katie Russell, Naomi Cichanowicz, Landon Bennett and Angelina Bokina and marketing plan by Katie Russell, who was the company’s CEO.

Their business was up against schools from around the country who conducted oral presentations and a Q&A and were judged on factors including use of technology and problem solving.

Though a bit nerve-wracking to present before a panel of judges that included industry experts, Katie said it taught her that she actually enjoys public speaking. “It was exciting. I got to highlight everyone’s work and brag about my classmates,” she said.

She said taking the course helped her commit to studying business and marketing at Texas Christian University next year. “It’s the perfect class if you’re interested in business or if you have no idea what you want to do,” she said. 

Naomi, on the other hand, plans to study screen acting at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Manhattan next year but said the course was “the most helpful, useful class,” she’ll take with her after high school.

The students expressed gratitude that the course covered big topics — professionalism, interviewing, public speaking — and small ones, like how to follow business dress codes, properly format emails and even table manners in business situations.

Ms. Ellwood said she’s proud of the group of students for the accomplishment. 

“These kids came in September with no business class experience whatsoever,” she said. “They’ve had jobs, a couple of students were in accounting, but that’s it. So it’s huge to start from zero with a brand new company in September and make it all the way. And when they leave here, they have a lot of experiences under their belt.”