Bakersfield’s Young Entrepreneurs Continue to Impress on National Stage

Friday April 12, 2024

Amazing students who are passionate about their business ideas. That’s the winning formula for the Virtual Enterprise program, says Bakersfield High School’s longtime adviser Ryker Solano. 

Solano was among teachers from all over the country who ushered more than 150 teams of budding entrepreneurs — including six local teams representing Centennial, BHS, Ridgeview and Stockdale — to New York City for the annual Youth Business Summit this week. The “Shark Tank” like competition challenges students to develop a hypothetical business and pitch it to industry executives.

In the prestigious business plan competition, all six teams from Bakersfield impressed the judges, with each advancing to the semi-final round held Thursday afternoon. From there, Bakersfield High and Centennial moved through to the elite eight and competed in the final round Friday morning. Centennial was ultimately crowned national runners-up with BHS placing eighth in the nation.

In the separate marketing plan, finance, and human resources competitions, Centennial placed third, Ridgeview placed second, and Stockdale placed second, respectively.

“Our teams represented their schools and our entire community with grace and class,” said Angel Cottrell, Entrepreneurship Resource Centers program manager for the Kern High School District. “We couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Local high schools have seen great success over the years on the national stage, led by BHS and Centennial, which have each notched three national titles over the years. 

In last year’s competition, the Kern High School District became the first district in the event’s 19 years to earn a sweep, with Centennial, BHS, and Ridgeview high schools placing first through third, respectively.

“Students get to meet with business professionals who have years of experience in New York’s business districts, so it rewards and validates the experience they have gained through the program,” Solano said. 

Many students acquire a love for business because of the experience and pursue careers in business majors or utilize the skills learned for potential internship/career opportunities. At a minimum, they develop self-confidence and public speaking skills that they can carry over in whatever career path they choose.

Ethan Taft, right, is CEO of BHS’s Mynet team.

Bakersfield High School senior Ethan Taft competed at the event for the third year. He is the CEO of Mynet, a financial education company that focuses on expanding financial literacy with students.

“The program is really great about teaching people about business. But more importantly, it’s how to work with a team,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot of leadership skills that I wouldn’t have gotten in other programs outside of the classroom.”

In the days leading up to the competition, students took advantage of numerous learning opportunities. Many witnessed Monday’s nearly total eclipse in Central Park before taking in activities like the Met, a tour of the United Nations, 9-11 Memorial, Statue of Liberty, and a Broadway play, among others.

“It’s always fun to see their eyes light up when entering the big city,” Solano said. “Some of our students have never been on a plane before, so it’s a totally new experience.”

Centennial High School was the team to beat going into the national competition. Not only did the school win last year’s national title, but this year’s company, MendTality, placed first at the regional competition held last January in Bakersfield.

MendTality was founded to promote positive thinking among young adults to improve mental well-being and foster prosperity. The company addresses negative mindsets through an interactive student program called The Prosperity Project and a product line adorned with positive affirmations on items used in daily life, such as apparel, jewelry, calendars, and journals.

MendTality features a product line adorned with positive affirmations.

Centennial senior Rhyan Atkin is MendTality’s CEO. She has been involved with Virtual Enterprise for the past two years and says it has been the most impactful program she has every been involved with.

“I’m so proud of my team for all their hard work,” she said Friday. “All of our long practices and lots of dedication have paid off.”

Since she was a little girl, Rhyan has aspired to become a special education teacher. She said she wanted to get involved in Virtual Enterprise to hone her presentation, organizational, and leadership skills so she could one day incorporate them into her teacher career.  

“It’s been an incredible journey to watch,” said her father Kyle, who accompanied the team to New York as a parent chaperon. “I’ve seen a lot of growth in Rhyan and I think a lot of credit can be given to this experience.”

Centennial High’s MendTality team shows off their second-place award after the 2024 Youth Business Summit held in New York City.

By Robert Meszaros

By Robert Meszaros

Rob Meszaros is Director of Communications for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, where he has served since 2012. In his role, Meszaros oversees media relations, internal and external communication strategies, publications, Marcom, branding, and multi-media content creation. Before joining KCSOS, Meszaros was the PIO for CSU Bakersfield and earlier worked for seven years at The Bakersfield Californian.