Forecasting a better future: business plan competition offers real-life experience for PVUSD students

Shortly after Marci Keller began leading the Diamond Tech Institute in 2015, she started her partnership with Santa Cruz Community Credit Union (SCCCU). And that partnership has turned into what she calls a “match made in heaven.”

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SCCCU’s President and CEO, Beth Carr, reached out to Keller to provide financial literacy training for the Diamond Tech Institute students. Once Carr learned about the existing Business Plan Competition at the school, she immediately suggested that SCCCU sponsor scholarships for the competition’s winners.

“We value and admire the curriculum at Diamond Tech. They’ve created a unique training program to get students excited about the future beyond their education,” explained Carr.

Sponsoring the competition allows us to invest in the future of these young people and support their entrepreneurial spirit.

— Beth Carr, SCCCU President and CEO

Developing life-long business skills

Diamond Tech’s Business Plan Competition allows all students to hone their skills and compete based on their knowledge and grade level. For example, first-year students compete to develop a business app (using MIT app inventor) that can be used to resolve issues or build a business. On the other hand, Senior students compete in a more advanced business plan competition, including an in-depth financial plan and forecast.

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Additionally, each year the students participate in the World Series of Innovation, sponsored by the United Nations. Students compete across the country to create a plan designed to resolve specific sustainability issues, such as water, sewage, and other climate actions.

“Diamond Tech is an extraordinary school that provides one-on-one support to our students,” stated Keller. “Most families choose our school because of its personalized environment and hands-on, project-based learning. Plus, some kids just need a small school to thrive.” On average, Diamond Tech has approximately 20 students per grade level.

Diamond Tech students achieve success beyond their High School education

According to Keller, 90% of their 2021 graduates are moving on to a post-secondary school. “80% of our graduates plan to attend a four-year university this fall. The remaining graduates plan to attend a two-year college or participate in a certification program. We’re very proud of these students.”


One of the essential aspects of Diamond Tech is the emphasis it places on preparing students for their future. “All our graduates leave Diamond Tech with a 10-year life plan,” explained Keller. “Everything we do — from the curriculum, small classes, business plan competition, and financial literacy — is aimed at providing students with the tools to be successful and reach their goals. And the Credit Union has assisted with two important elements of this training.”

Take, for example, Ellie Carranza. She won the Business Plan Competition in 2018 as a senior at Diamond Tech, winning a scholarship from SCCCU. She has since used her business plan to start a successful eyelash business called “Lovely Lashes” located in Watsonville.

“Ellie is one of our great success stories,” stated Keller. “This is what it’s all about. Seeing a student take what is taught and implementing it successfully in the real world.”

A partnership that’s built to last

Both SCCCU and Diamond Tech see their partnership moving well into the future.

We’d love to expand our efforts to include a mentoring or internship program for the students. Providing financial literacy training and sponsoring young minds to move into a successful future is core to our mission at the Credit Union.

— Beth Carr, SCCCU President and CEO

The Credit Union offers free financial literacy training to all in the community. “We love to get out into the community, meet over Zoom or in-person, and share what we know to help others achieve their financial goals. We know that when we do that, our entire community gets a little better, “ stated Katie Fairbairn, SCCCU’s VP of Organizational Development and Member Communications. “Our mission is to provide economic justice for all, and we take our mission seriously.”