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Queens kids learn biz skills

Project Empower Executive Director Dante DiCicco helps St. Elizabeth students flesh out their business plans at the kick-off of state competition last Thursday. Photo by Karen Frantz
TimesLedger Newspapers

A chocolate product is in the works for an anticipated new company headed by world-renowned Chef Timothy Maguire, and the visionaries in charge of developing and marketing the treat may come as a surprise.

No, they are not the latest hotshots fresh out of business school,, but middle-school-age children from Queens.

More than 100 students aged of 11 to 13 gathered at St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Academy, at 94-01 85th St. in Ozone Park, last Thursday for the kick-off of a state competition in which children from across New York will develop a new chocolate flavor, come up with slogans and logos, determine target markets and consider celebrity endorsers.

“Today the students actually get to be in a real business environment,” said Nisha Parikh, associate executive director of Project Empower, the nonprofit that holds the business competitions and was first launched in 2011.

She and the organization’s executive director, Dante DiCicco, said the competition puts the students in a role that fosters leadership and helps them learn valuable skills they will need in their future careers.

“We’re teaching them concepts that aren’t typically learned until well after middle school,” DiCicco said.

The St. Elizabeth students will present their ideas to a panel of judges in four weeks and the winning team will compete for their school at the state level, where other schools from the state will also be represented.

The final competition will be held at Standard & Poor’s, the financial services firm, in Manhattan Feb. 8. The judge’s panel will include not only Maguire, but also leading business tycoons.

Students appeared excited about the project at the kick-off event, getting particularly heated up when samples of Maguire’s chocolate were passed around and they were asked to think about which celebrity endorser might be a good choice for a chocolate product.

“Justin Bieber,” called out one student, referring to the immensely popular teenage pop singer. The suggestion was met with a buzz in the auditorium.

After explaining the Project Empower process, DiCicco and Parikh divided the children into groups and helped the students as they were developing ideas.

St. Elizabeth’s Principal William Ferguson said the students loved participating in the competition and it helps them think outside the somewhat constricted world of school.

“The opportunity has been great,” he said.

Past Project Empower competitions have included launching a new flavor of Vitamin Water and a new shoe model for Nike.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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