As someone who has started a lot of student virtual businesses, I can not tell you how important the first few days of class are as the student brainstorm about ideas for companies. They will present, debate and finally select one of the ideas for the business they will become over the next 10 months. Your goal as a teacher for the coming year will determine the path you take when helping your kids design a new business.
KNOW YOUR MARKET
Looking back at the process over the past 20 years, I have had several teams who thought they had good ideas and were highly motivated to be successful, but when the business began to evolve they created a company that had no appeal the target market that would be potentially buying from them. I vividly remember coming back from a trade show and the student saying "no one wants to buy from us".
When I work with kids on their ideas we talk about who we are going to sell to and compare that to who will be buying. If you are selling vending machines or promotional products, these are business to business (B2B) markets and have little or no interest to the students that will be visiting your website or stopping in at your booth at a trade show event. Consumer-based businesses or online retailers tend to, at the very least, make the students happy that someone wants what they have to offer.
SOLVING A PROBLEM
One of the superpowers of successful entrepreneurs is a mindset that allows them to see problems and needs in the world around them. However, for our students who rarely have this superpower, the easy pick is to choose an idea they know and have purchased. They tend to gravitate to technology, music, clothing or food. The four pillars of their lives. If they choose one of these they will be one of the many companies in the virtual environment and will have to work hard to distinguish themselves from the masses.
The first step in design theory focuses on a problem and what problem will your design solve. Students need to think about what problem their business is solving and why the business needs to exist. The basics of value propositions is that you are solving some pain that the consumer is feeling and what the company has to offer relieves that pain and creates value for the customer.
All too often kids want to have a business that they know. If they do no research on what is trending or on the horizon of innovation they will be left with a cell phone case company or selling ice cream. Innovation can be the catalyst that shoots them ahead of the pack and sets them apart from others in their industry. Teams that have an innovative idea that solves a large global problem can be the "golden ticket" to a company's success in the virtual world.
My most highly decorated company had an innovative idea. A concept which none of the kids were aware of before they started the class. This class had several students who come out of our English Learner classes to join my program. Communication was a problem that dealt with and what the class decided on was a mobile translation earpiece that worked through their smartphone to audio translate languages in real time and allowed people who normally could not communicate an ability to speak with each other. However the students did not pull this idea out of the thin air, they researched innovation business startups that were looking for funding or had won innovation awards. A few sites that I have my students go to when they are brainstorming ideas are The Edison Awards, KickStarter, and Indiegogo. Each of this can plant the seed of a business idea that the students can simulate in Virtual Enterprise.
Here are links to a few resource activities you can use with your students use to start the process of coming up with an idea for your business.