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Apr 10, 2019 9:59 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Business Team Prepares For Competition Finals

Team Fresh Focus, left to right, Frank Lapinski, Joseph Connisso, Jack Meigel and Elena DeVita.  DANA SHAW
Apr 10, 2019 11:34 AM

Four Westhampton Beach High School classmates are days away from taking their business plan to the big stage, where they will go up against two other teams in the final round of a national business pitch competition.Elena DeVita, Joe Commisso, Frank Lapinski and Jack Meigel, who call themselves Fresh Focus, have spent the last few weeks preparing daily to perfect their business plan and two-minute pitch. They meet before and after school to design their digital prototype, video chat with their business mentors and speech coach, create a commercial with a local production company, and call manufacturers and shipping companies from across the country—all to create a viable business concept.

“I think a huge part of being a four-person team is we learn the company in and out, like the back side of our hand—all the numbers, all the locations,” said Jack, the only junior on the team. “And I think that helps us with the nervousness of it, because you just take a look back and we know our stuff.”

“We’ve all prepared really well for this and I think we’re going to do extremely well,” Frank, a senior, said.

Their idea is to create sustainable and stylish lunch boxes made out of recycled cork that will be marketed to white-collar millennials of any gender. The retail price would be $145 per bag, but they are actively finding ways to reduce that cost.

The four students met as classmates in the high school’s Virtual Enterprise entrepreneurship program, which teaches students how to become professional business people. As part of the program, students are given the chance to form a team and participate in real-world business plan competitions that are hosted by Virtual Enterprise International, a nonprofit organization that promotes the development of youth entrepreneurs.

The competition offered to their class was the VE Social Venture Challenge, which required all submitted business ideas to have some kind of positive social or environmental impact. The four of them, becoming the only team in the class to compete, decided to make their concept about lunch boxes, which they see in their cafeteria every day.

“We wanted to find a problem that we were all related to. So for us, we found that sustainability in the lunch box industry was something that resonated a lot with us as well as the waste of plastic in the frequent uses of plastic bags,” Frank said.

“We also noticed a lack of style in the lunch box industry, and we thought that we could make a difference in this department, especially for business people, like white-collar millennials, that we aspire to be in the future,” Elena, a senior, added.

This business idea advanced the team past the first two rounds of the competition and has secured them a spot in a final round that will take place in Manhattan on April 17. They will have two minutes to present their social enterprise concept to a panel of business executives.

If their team wins, they will be awarded $10,000 and a year of co-working space at WeWork to help start the business.

Their teacher, Amy Demchak, has been rooting for them through the entire process. She said she believes they will win, explaining that each student has an area of strength that makes for a well-rounded team.

“Elena is a marketing guru, Frank is totally the financial guy, Jack is really good with videos and tech, and Joe is amazing with coding and programming,” she said. “I think that they recognized this and admired each other’s strengths and knew that they’d be good people to work with.”

Ms. Demchak isn’t their only local supporter. Members of the high school’s Business Advisory Board have helped to sponsor their trip and told the students that they want to watch their presentation before they compete, to offer feedback.

Other local business executives have acted as consultants to the team, like Naomi Hogarty, owner of 91 East Productions based in Westhampton Beach, and Jessica Insalaco, president of KRAFT Marketing in East Quogue.

Although three of the four team members will attend college in the fall, they said they plan to pursue their business if they win the competition, using the WeWork space and online communication tools to bring their idea to life.

“It’s been a really great process for us to grow,” Frank said of the Virtual Enterprise program. “We’ve been learning how to do things that I don’t think you would get in a normal high school education. You learn so many things because it’s so hands-on.

“This isn’t just a class, this is for real.”

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Good luck to these students!
By America (3), East Quogue on Apr 12, 19 10:52 AM
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