Suffolk business student meets Obama

Article By: Jeff Fish

Suffolk freshman Scott Paiva met President Obama in the Oval Office yesterday after being one of three finalists out of 24,000 in a business model competition for the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE).

“I was shocked and totally surprised, excited to say the least,” said Paiva. “[Meeting the President] inspired me to continue [with business in the future] with someone of that stature behind me, especially someone who just won the Nobel Peace Prize.”

After arriving in Washington D.C. Sunday night at 5 p.m., Paiva and the other finalists had dinner at their hotel with NFTE staff members. He had to wake up at 6 a.m. the next day to begin his day at the White House, which included a two hour private tour with a member of the White House Staff in areas usually closed off to the public, namely the top two floors where the President and first family live.

Paiva, the other two finalists, and their families waited in the Roosevelt Room while they were cleared to meet the President. They had to go through extensive security before entering the White House and meeting the President. “When I got cleared to [meet the President] I heard his voice saying ‘come on in guys,’ and it hit me that this was real.”

During the meeting, which lasted about five minutes, Obama shook hands with the finalists, posed for pictures with them, and presented them with official Presidential ties.

“He was really focused. He keeps really good eye contact. He really cares about what you’re saying and he’s not just blowing it off,” said Paiva. “He already knew each finalist’s name and our businesses. It was shocking to know that he knew my name. He also asked me about what school I went to.”

After meeting with the President, Paiva and his father toured D.C. for a few hours before returning home.

The business model that earned Paiva the trip the White House started out as a project during his senior year at New Bedford High School, located in New Bedford, Mass. “It all started in an entrepreneurship class in high school. It was originally just for a grade.”

Paiva’s assignment was to come up with a business and present it to the class. His model was a tax preparation service, “basically an H&R Block for high school and college students.”

Paiva came up with the idea because of the fact that many high school and college students have to file taxes for the first time. They may need help with their taxes and Paiva wanted to create a business that would be more personal than H&R Block by theoretically having employees sit down with individuals and taking the time to come up with a tax plan.

Paiva came in third place overall in the competition. The first place winner had a business printing anti gang t-shirts and other shirts with positive messages. The second place winner has already started running a clothing line.

“[Obama] joked with me about doing his cabinet members’ taxes,” said Paiva, whose father runs a tax and financial service in New Bedford. Paiva also worked for H&R Block during the 2007 tax season.

Since Paiva’s entrepreneurship class was funded by NFTE, each student who did the project was entered in a class competition. The top two projects in the class went to a school-wide competition, and the top two from that went to a local completion, which included surrounding towns. The regional competition took the top two projects from the local competition to compete with students from all of New England, and the top two students from New England went to the national competition, which was held in New York City on Oct. 7.

The first stage of the national competition, the quarter finals, separated the contestants into six different rooms, each with four to five students. The top two from each room went to the semi-finals, which had three rooms with five kids each, then one student from each room went to the finals. Through each stage of the competition, students had to present their business models to all the disqualified contestants and their families in a large auditorium during the finals.

According to Paiva, Obama had notified NFTE officials the night before the finals that he wanted to meet with the top three finalists of the competition, who found out they would be meeting the President before they presented their business plans.

After returning to school yesterday, Paiva will resume his classes at the Suffolk Business School where he is a finance major.

Paiva was already familiar with Suffolk before he started attending in the fall because he had two sisters that graduated from Suffolk in 2007 and 2005. “It was definitely one of my top choices because I knew [Suffolk] had a good business program.”

Paiva plans to advertise in the dorms next semester to those students who may need help with their taxes.

After graduating, Paiva plans to go into some sort of business, “maybe not the same exact business, but I want to become an entrepreneur in the field [of finance] and run a similar type of business.”

Reflecting on the competition and meeting with the President, Paiva said, “Throughout this whole experience I learned if you have an idea, with the right teaching and motivation, you can make anything come to life.”