Neuqua Valley business team lands in national competition


The integration of technology and pet care is central to a business plan that has landed a team of Neuqua Valley High School student entrepreneurs in a national competition.

From the general concept and marketing strategies to the finance and human resources departments, every element of the simulated company, Catalyst Care, has been developed over the course of the academic year by 27 Neuqua Valley seniors in a Virtual Enterprises International class.

The project’s six student executives will pitch the business plan to judges this week in a contest involving the top 40 teams from across the country.

“This really is a prestigious honor for them to make it to this point,” said Nick Chapman, president of Virtual Enterprises, which aims to offer authentic business experiences in high schools nationwide. “I think it starts with the culture they’ve created at Neuqua.”

While brainstorming ideas at the beginning of the school year, the Catalyst Care students came to a consensus on two key points: They wanted their business concept to involve animals, and they wanted it to be reflective of the times, said Tyler Madsen, chief project manager.

The students got to work launching a fake company that blends technology with pet health, as evidenced through their signature smart collar that offers GPS tracking, monitors health metrics and serves as a “Fitbit for your pet,” Chief Executive Officer Nadun Gajapala said.



With help from other students in the class, he said, the six project leaders came together to develop an overarching business proposal and presentation that incorporated the product, marketing plans, financial models and structure of the company.

“One of our huge, huge strengths is, within these chiefs, we have really great leadership in place,” Gajapala said. “We put in extra time and extra work after school just to differentiate ourselves and make us stand out from the competition. We’re really, really proud.”

The Catalyst Cares plan won first place in a Virtual Enterprises state contest in January, earning the team a spot in the National Business Plan Competition held virtually this month.

The preliminary round begins today, after which the pool will be narrowed to 20 teams. The semifinals take place April 19 before the top eight teams compete in a championship round April 21.



The class that created Catalyst Care is one of five Virtual Enterprises sections at Neuqua Valley, each of which runs its own fake company, business teacher Beth Schmidtgall said.

In addition to meeting deadlines and working through the normal issues that arise in a workplace environment, she said, the students had the added challenge this year of communicating and operating their business remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it made us strengthen our skills a lot, and that has helped us in the long run,” said Maggie Pelter, chief design officer for Catalyst Care.

Providing students with relevant hands-on opportunities to prepare them for careers is the goal of Virtual Enterprises, Chapman said. The Catalyst Cares team leaders, in particular, have been able to prove their commitment to the simulated experience and their knowledge of business concepts, while effectively articulating their mission through their presentation, he said.

“It’s less about what the idea is and more about how students are able to demonstrate what they’ve learned through this experience and how they’re pivoting and adapting to the market,” Chapman said.

“In every great (Virtual Enterprises) program, it’s really about how much the students dive into the project and how much they own of it,” he said. “When you go to Neuqua, it’s very clear that these students are in charge and in control.”


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