It’s Friday, a few hours before the close of the stock market. The day trader stares in horror at his computer screen.
“It’s going down! It’s going down!” he shrieks. “I’m selling! I’m selling!” He swiftly unloads his Ariba stock, but not before taking a big hit.
Oh, well – it’s only funny money. Quite literally, since the trader in this case is a high school student playing a simulation game at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. But he and his fellow students are laying the foundation for ventures that may pay off in real wealth some day. To watch Waymondo, Alijah, and their friends confidently tossing around terms like “price-to-earning ratio” and “growth potential,” is impressive. It’s hard to believe that some of these kids didn’t know a money market from a mutual fund just five days ago.
This summer, some 80 teens from around the East Bay exuberantly tackled the mysteries of the financial world in a program known as Young Entrepreneurs at Haas or YEAH. They got started with a one-week crash course at the business school. Adopting team names like X-Change, The BULL-ies, and 2 Make $, they learned the basics of market investing and money management through games, lectures, and research assignments.
YEAH was started in 1989 as a way to draw young people into the business world. In recent years it’s grown by leaps and bounds – participation doubled in size this year. The students will continue their training over the next two years. Each is assigned a mentor, an MBA student who will meet with them weekly and help them to develop a plan for their own business. The program culminates with the students presenting their business plans before a community venture board. The board then deals out seed funding, which the YEAH students can apply toward their business ventures or toward college costs.
For Brian Alexander, a Berkeley High junior who dreams of working in movie animation some day, the best part of the program so far are the hands-on aspect activities. “They had us draw up a budget, to see how you would pay your bills for the year,” he says. “It was kind of putting you in the mindset of your parents. It was real.”
Jahmila Jones, a junior at Bishop O’Dowd School in Oakland, wants to be an entertainment lawyer. This is her third summer in the YEAH program and she is an unabashed fan. “I don’t want to be corny, but it’s like the real world,” she says. “We compete, we earn prizes, we use the Internet.”
And that’s the point – to give students some skills they can use in “the real world.” YEAH staff member Ajuah Helton explains that the outreach program is intended to draw underrepresented groups – especially women and minorities – into the world of business and finance. The students in this year’s group are mostly African-American. Many, though not all, come from financially struggling families. They are all bright, motivated, and focused. Each submitted an application and went through a screening process to be admitted to the YEAH program.
Back in the computer lab, a trio of young men wear headphones plugged into CD players as they scan their portfolios. They like to listen to their favorite rap and hip-hop while working. “It puts you in a certain mood” for trading, one explains.
Soft-spoken Lonnie Johnson, a Berkeley High School junior, studies her stocks, which have given her only mediocre returns this week. “I invested in the wrong companies,” she says. She mistakenly bought shares of Sysco, the food-service company, instead of Cisco, the Internet-service company whose phenomenal performance has wowed investors. Still, she’s made a $560 profit (in imaginary cash) over the past week, which certainly beats losing the same amount.
This is only the beginning. As the young traders head back to school in a few weeks, they will have lots of other things on their minds: grades, dating, after-school jobs. But one gets the feeling that these teenagers have the dedication to stick with their dreams. The world of business may never be the same.