Upper School Students Propose Investment Strategies for Irvine Tech Startup

The final test in the Upper School’s math for financial markets class was really just one question: How would you spend $1 million?

Teams of four stood up in the classroom, each with a prepared slide deck, ready to make their case. On the other side of the table were St. Margaret’s alumnus Jason Goldberg ’13 and Cade Proulx, CEO and COO of the Irvine tech startup VYRL, jotting down notes and critiquing the students’ ideas.

As part of an entrepreneurial studies pilot unit taught by math teacher Andrew Hammond and Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives Ryan Dahlem, the students were tasked with determining how to best use $1 million in venture capital funding to grow VYRL, an app that allows popular Instagram influencers to connect and collaborate while discovering opportunities to promote brands and companies.

“It was great to go out and integrate ourselves in the world of entrepreneurship,” senior Luke Desforges said after the presentations, “and VYRL was really a great business to work with.”

This week’s presentations were more than a month in the making. The class visited VYRL’s Irvine headquarters in November to take a tour of the office and view the pitch Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Proulx give to investors. Students had the chance to ask questions about the company to gain additional insight.

Since then, the teams have researched VYRL, its competitors and the social media industry for more background. Students applied design thinking to create their proposals, including ethnographic interviews with end users, and used the Business Model Canvas method to better understand the structure of VYRL as a company.

Last week, their presentations were critiqued by four coaches with business experience who volunteered their time—St. Margaret’s Trustee and parent David Perry, St. Margaret’s Chief Financial and Operating Officer and alumni parent David Bush, alumnus and entrepreneur Justin Phan ’04 and St. Margaret’s parent Joe Davis. The coaches listened to each student’s presentation and offered feedback, tweaks and suggestions for students to consider before their final pitch.

The ideas St. Margaret’s students came up with for VYRL were astute, such as expanding to other platforms like YouTube and Snapchat, further investing in search-engine optimization, globalizing the company by offering the platform in multiple languages, and hosting networking events to better connect brands with influencers.

After each group presented their proposal, Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Proulx asked follow-up questions and gave feedback on the presentation. He said afterward that many of the ideas students proposed aligned with the strategies brainstormed by VYRL leaders.  

St. Margaret’s Strategic Plan calls for the school to further develop innovative programs including entrepreneurship and relationships with industry. This pilot unit is an early implementation of entrepreneurial studies on campus.

“We were so pleased with how the students rose to the challenge and engaged in this experiential learning opportunity,” Mr. Dahlem said. “The feedback was very positive and provides momentum as we plan the spring pilot where students create their own business model. We are also looking to coordinate entrepreneurship efforts across divisions to create a cohesive entrepreneurship program.”
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An independent preschool through grade 12 college-preparatory day school in Orange County, California