Panthers roar at competition

The Vernon Panthers economics team went to Vancouver as underdogs. They returned as champions.

VSS Panthers economics team members Erica Chow (from left)

VSS Panthers economics team members Erica Chow (from left)

The Vernon Panthers economics team went to Vancouver as underdogs. They returned as champions.

Competing in a field of more than 20 teams (mainly Grade 11 and 12 students), the business savvy Cats, featuring four Grade 9 students, collected first place in the executives marketplace category at Junior Achievement of B.C.’s 13th annual B.C. Business Challenge.

Each team member received a plaque and $75 prize money. The Panthers plan on pooling some of that cash to go out for a celebration dinner.

“Our team was underestimated when we arrived. It was particularly sweet when our team won the competition,” said Susan Egan, Vernon Secondary School teacher and economics coach.

At the competition, the Panthers – captain Erica Chow (Grade 12), her brother Daniel (Grade 10), Megan Fretz, Michaela Hamilton, Kory Kury and Zack Goldsmith – took on the role of high-tech executives in a global business simulation.

Their task was to develop an imaginary company through 18 quarters of business to bring their futuristic product, a miniature audio player capable of generating holographic images, to market.

Teams were responsible for determining pricing, production levels and dollars to be spent in marketing, capital investment and research and development, all while working against tight time lines.

They also had to analyze financial reports and scrutinize the actions of other companies and take appropriate actions to stay ahead of the competition.

The team with the highest share price at the end of the competition is the winner.

“It was really stressful,” said Erica Chow, who plans to study law after graduation.

“Our team was really strong with teamwork, so we could go through stuff really fast, and we had different people doing different things. Depending on the press releases, whether they wanted us to be high on the research and development or marketing, we had to make our decisions based on that.”

As the competition went along, Erica Chow says it became clear that pricing would play a vital role in the success of their product.

“We wanted to differentiate ourselves from the competitors and match our prices well,” she said.

“We didn’t want to do anything too risky, but near the end we had to beat them, so we dropped our price and undercut all of them.”

To make the competition more realistic, organizers threw in a few red herring press releases to stump the students, and then ended the competition without warning.

“That was an interesting twist,” said Egan. “That coupled with the time pressure really makes things tricky.”

Before joining the team, Fretz said she only had a mild interest in economics. That all changed once they began preparing for the B.C. Business Challenge.

“It gives you an insight into what business is really like. You get to see how the market and different events affect your product,” said Fretz, who was encouraged by a friend to join the team.

Egan credited Erica Chow for her ability to guide the youthful Panthers.

“She really encouraged the teamwork,” she sad.

“Sometimes there’s a tendency for the captain to just do what they want to do,” explained Egan.

“With some teams I’ve taken, we have someone who is a bit of an autocrat, but this team was wonderful in terms of teamwork skills. They all worked together and everybody had their own role.”

VSS has sent a team to the challenge every year since the competition began 13 years ago, and has reached the podium 11 times.

“I originally had to beg Junior Achievement to let us participate because we were outside of the Lower Mainland,” said Egan, noting it has since become a provincewide event.

The team flew to Vancouver and stayed at the Coast Coal Harbour Hotel, one of the competition sponsors, in downtown Vancouver.

In addition to sightseeing and a little shopping, the Panthers got to eat at the Cactus Club.

Ida Chong, science and universities minister, was in attendance to promote the Year of Science and congratulate the winners.

The B.C. Business Challenge was sponsored by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of B.C., Deloitte, The Ministry of Science and Universities, Dettwiler & Associates, Scotiabank Group, Colliers and the Portables.