Samohi students Aidan Nathanson (left) and Sean Robins hold the $1,000 check they received for winning first place in the seventh annual High School Business Plan competition held in February and hosted by the UCLA Anderson School of Management. (photo by Brandon Wise)

SAMOHI — On March 18, a bevy of food trucks will descend on Santa Monica streets near the Samohi campus for a lunch period of eclectic eats.

While that spells fun for most, Aidan Nathanson and his business partner Sean Robins view it as research.

The two seniors plan on operating a food truck themselves under the name of Grub Tough, a rolling kitchen specializing in a meat-laden Uruguayan sandwich called a chivito.

“It’s a top sirloin sandwich with bacon, egg and ham,” Nathanson said. “It’s a meaty sandwich, and it’s delicious.”

The research Nathanson and Robins will do at the truck luncheon will translate in a pitch to investors to raise the $50,000 in start up money needed to get the project underway.

If the artery-clogging goodness of the chivito wasn’t enough to convince prospective investors of the potential benefits of jumping onto the food truck bandwagon, perhaps the fact that the business has been vetted by some of the best minds in the country might sway them.

The concept of Grub Tough evolved through the Virtual Business arm of a class at Samohi called Regional Occupational Program, commonly known as ROP.

Under the name of “Stacked,” the plan won the top prize in the New On-Campus Business category at the seventh annual High School Business Plan competition held in February and hosted by the UCLA Anderson School of Management, garnering a $1,000 check.

It wasn’t alone in its success.

Vike’s Enterprise, a collaborative effort of the ROP ECHO and Virtual Business classes, walked away with second prize and $500 for Existing On-Campus Business, and the floral arrangement business Seflora got a $250 award for third place in Existing On-Campus Business.

The money will go toward student activities, the ROP program and scholarships.

ROP is sponsored by the California Department of Education to give students an opportunity to break away from traditional learning and get a hands-on experience in practical subjects far afield from the usual math or language arts coursework.

The ROP program at Samohi has long been at the top of its game. In 2010, students traveled to South Africa and took first place in an international competition, beating out hundreds of students to win the top spot.

Students at Samohi specialize in business, marketing, technology and other subjects, and then work together on projects that other students take part in, most visibly the student-run businesses on campus.

Most of the seed money for those businesses comes from grant-writing and fundraising, rather than from school coffers, said ROP teacher Anita Kemp, forcing students to work within the boundaries of how people do business.

The students play by all the same rules that their competitors in the real world do as well.

When state regulations came down banning the sale of soda on campuses, for instance, Vike’s Inn had to change its model and begin selling Powerade, despite the fact that it’s technically a private enterprise.

Students excel by living their competitions every day, making educated business decisions based on the needs of their number one client — the student body of Samohi.

Vike’s Enterprise won its prize for taking three existing businesses — Vike’s Inn & Cafe, Tote-A-lly Awesome and 3Tier — and reorganizing them under the single umbrella business. Tote-A-lly specializes in making bags while 3Tier does event planning.

The move will allow the Tote-A-lly awesome bags to be sold at the cafe, for instance, and allows for a broader management structure.

The idea and associated plan was developed by this year’s crop of seniors to cross-sell and market the various products hawked by each business.

It takes a lot of work, said senior Garrett Petersen.

“We were here every day after school, weekends on Saturday and late morning to early evening Sunday working on that plan,” Petersen said.

The success of the program rests on dedicated teachers, energized students and the support it receives from the community, said teacher Teri Jones.

“The business community and parent community help us in a huge way,” Jones said. “It lets the students grow, be entrepreneurial and develop their careers.”

All that work translates into impressive resumes. Nearly two-thirds of the students enrolled in ROP go on to pursue a business degree when they get to college, Jones said.

Nathanson plans to. It’s actually the biggest reason that his sandwich-slinging food truck might not make it off the ground, as college acceptances come out this week.

“We want to get the investing done as soon as parents give the OK and after I find out what colleges I get into,” he explained. “It could kind of kill us.”

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