Students of the Santa Monica High School SAGE team, Yoly Ramirez (center) and Jessica Santiago (left) collect money for parking during the Fancy Feet performance at Barnum Hall on Saturday. Supplying parking, concessions, ushering and other services, SAGE gives students a chance to raise money for their school-related needs. (photo by Brandon Wise)

SAMOHI — Come late July, 11 students from Santa Monica High School will find themselves thousands of miles away from home, walking the streets of Cape Town, South Africa.

No, they won’t be clueless tourists who’ve arrived two weeks late for the World Cup. They know exactly what they’ll be doing: participating in their own similarly-named international competition — the SAGE World Cup — where they will be tested not on their athletic ability, but on their entrepreneurial skills.

SAGE (Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship) is a non-profit organization that promotes entrepreneurship education and community service among high school students. With programs in nine states and more than 20 countries, SAGE encourages students to start and run real-world ventures under the direction of mentors from local businesses and universities.

The Samohi team isn’t just any group of business-minded youngsters. These youngsters also happen to be the 2010 SAGE USA champions, having won a national competition in May in Buffalo, N.Y.

That earned them a trip to face the best SAGE teams from around the world in a contest that will run from July 23-27.

“There’s a high expectation from the SAGE global organization for this team, a very high expectation that we could, in fact, get first again,” said team adviser Teri Jones.

For Samohi to capture another world championship — the school placed first at the 2006 SAGE World Cup in Shanghai — Jones and her team will likely have to outshine a Nigerian squad that has won the competition each of the past three years. As many as 14 other countries, including Brazil, China and Ukraine, will send two teams each — one national champion and one runner-up — to Cape Town.

Each team will give a 13-minute presentation highlighting its student-run business ventures and community outreach projects before answering questions from a panel of judges. Evaluation criteria range across 10 areas, from entrepreneurship to civic engagement to environmental responsibility.

The Samohi team’s projects include 3-Tier, a venture in which students offer parking, ushering and concessions services at local events; Seflora, an on-campus flower company; Tote-a-lly Awesome, a company selling eco-friendly tote bags; and a high school student chapter of the League of Women’s Voters.

Students like Gabriela Velazquez, a member of the Samohi team, were turned on to SAGE by first participating in individual projects. In Velazquez’s case, becoming a financial manager for 3-Tier was just the beginning.

“Because I started with one thing it led me into doing everything else, and I got more and more involved in every single project we have,” Velazquez said.

Jessica Santiago, another member of the team, pointed out that SAGE encompasses multiple ventures.

“You’re basically in SAGE without knowing it,” Santiago said. “I’m part of Seflora, and we have a UCLA business competition that’s part of SAGE. It’s all together for SAGE.”

The team will need to showcase all of its ongoing projects at the international competition. Even after winning a national championship, it won’t be an easy task.

A primary concern will be the presence of judges from foreign countries.

“We will have to change our wording because the United States is both revered and loved and hated and despised at the same time,” Jones said, adding that the team will need to take on a more global perspective in its presentation.

Fortunately for the Samohi team, one of its biggest challenges is already out of the way. With one month until the students and their two advisers — Jones and fellow Samohi teacher Anita Kemp — board a plane headed east, they have already reached their goal of raising the $54,000 needed to cover the expenses of the trip.

As of one week ago, the team had raised less than half that total. Then last Tuesday, the City Council approved $12,000 from its discretionary fund to help cover travel and housing costs for team members.

Jones credited the rest to donations from local residents and entrepreneurs as well as the team’s own efforts through 3-Tier events and other fundraisers.

With the first major obstacle out of the way, the team can now look forward to the competition itself.

“I expect to see a different perspective on the world,” said Santiago, who has never been outside North America. “I think that’s why [SAGE] is such a great organization because it’s not just about winning. It’s not just about the competition.”

Jones feels the trip will help the students further understand the value of the real-life lessons gained from participating in SAGE.

“Our standard of living [in the U.S.] is this high because of entrepreneurship and free enterprise,” Jones said.

Added Kemp: “I think it’s one of the best things that has happened here at Samo.”

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