Olympia High’s Academy of Hospitality and Tourism team brought home first place in the inaugural OCPS Emerging Entrepreneurship Pitch Challenge.
Imagine you were in charge of the marketing campaign to bring tourists back to the Orlando area. What would you say? What would be your plan?
Those were the types of questions a trio of Olympia High School students had to answer during the first OCPS Emerging Entrepreneurship Pitch Challenge April 29 at the Rosen Plaza.
During their 10-minute pitch, sophomores Landen Engler and Brady Kullich and junior Victoria Thomaz — part of the school’s Academy of Hospitality & Tourism program — presented the marketing materials and commercial they had created that highlighted two big talking points: Safety and new attractions.
“Our tagline for our pitch was, ‘Orlando is ready. Are you?’” Thomaz said. “We showed that Orlando is actually ready compared to other places in the United States … we’re following CDC guidelines, we have high participation in vaccinations compared to other places, and we tried to sell that point that we are ready.”
“I think there (were) almost two selling points in our presentation, and one of them was the safety factors and all of the sanitation, temperature checks and social distancing that was being practiced at the parks,” Engler said. “The other one was new attractions. So in our commercial and in our marketing materials, we included pictures of the VelociCoaster at Universal; we included videos and pictures of Ice Breaker at SeaWorld. And not only that, but showing what attractions we have to expand upon that.”
The pitch, as well as their post-presentation answers, were so solid that the trio ultimately walked away with a first-place finish in the hospitality marketing challenge portion of the event — its first competition win for the young program.
STARTING A PROGRAM
In 2018, instructor David Weigle was approached by OCPS about starting a career academy at Olympia — which was the only school in the district to not have one.
The original plan was to start an IT program, but after being sent to a summer conference in Washington, D.C., Weigle didn’t feel like it was the right fit. Instead of IT, Weigle suggested something more fitting for Central Florida: tourism and hospitality.
“That’s what my undergrad is in — so I could teach it — and I just think given the energy and our location that it’s the best fit for us, so I spent a year planning that academy program out,” Weigle said. “We had all these great ideas — myself and our now former principal Dr. Guy Swenson — and we were meeting regularly and trying to figure out, ‘How can we make this the most amazing program at Olympia?’”
But before the program could take off running, it was crippled by the arrival of COVID-19.
As a part of the program, Weigle had gained access to a part of the cafeteria that was planned to be rented out to companies and give students a chance to practice working and catering live events. The plan is to eventually get that back up and running.
Meanwhile, the academy itself is a three-year program divided into three different areas of hospitality and tourism. The first year is learning the basics of guest service and different sectors of hospitality. The second year focuses on marketing a business, and the third is all about learning how to manage a business.
Thomaz discovered the program via Pineapple Con — an event used by Weigle to promote the new academy. Engler and Kullich are longtime friends and entered the academy together.
“To me, this was very unique — I’ve also never heard of this before,” Kullich said. “And I group up with Landen — we have been friends for 10 years — so he told me about it, and I was immediately interested, because I’ve been obsessed with hospitality, theme parks and stuff like that. That was the first elective that I wrote down — I think it was No. 1 on my list.”
THE CHALLENGE AND BEYOND
The trio’s first-place performance at the challenge was impressive — even more so considering they had only days to get it done.
The group received their prompt a week before the competition, and because of COVID, the students only had a chance to meet in person once. All other communication was done through virtual meetings.
Everyone on the team had their specific roles. Engler concentrated on the written materials and developing the commercial, while Kullich worked on the print material and most of the graphic design details. Meanwhile, Thomaz was the master organizer, who helped put the pieces into place to make the project easier to understand and digest.
It was stressful, but Weigle said he knew they could handle it.
“They’re used to dealing with stress — they have me as a teacher, and they have very firm deadlines,” Weigle said with a laugh. “These three in particular are very used to coping with that kind of stress and always putting the product before the emotion.”
Since taking home that first-place trophy, the trio has been finishing up the semester by staying busy. And although Weigle is leaving the school at the end of the school year, he and his students are optimistic about the future for the budding academy.
“It’s going to be my last year at Olympia — and I’ll definitely be taking this class — and I hope we can work together to make this program keep on going,” Thomaz said. “I really like the program. … I have a special place for it in my heart.”
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