It’s not easy to teach someone how to embrace an entrepreneurial spirit, but a new class at New Trier High School aims to do that in new class this year called StartUp U.
In a yearlong class taught by Matthew Mersch, a teacher in the school’s Business Department, teams of students develop their business ideas and then go through all the necessary steps towards actually launching the business. The class culminates in a pitch night held in May, where teams present their ideas to community business leaders, similar to ABC’s popular show, Shark Tank.
“I hope every student learns the process of starting a business or being an entrepreneur,” Mersch, told DailyNorthShore.
The top three teams from the May pitch night, will have the opportunity to compete against 24 teams from high schools all over Illinois and Indiana, at an event hosted by Culver Academies. The winning team will receive $25,000 to launch a business idea.
While the idea of winning investment money is enticing for some, Mersch said the focus of the class is to encourage students to start their own business. “The process is valuable even if it doesn’t end up being a winning idea,” he said.
The class follows the program INCubatoredu, a curriculum developed by the nonprofit Uncharted Profit, based in Barrington. Each team of students is mentored throughout the year by community members, all of whom are tied to New Trier in some way, whether they are New Trier graduates themselves, live in the community or have kids who attend the high school. Coaches visit the class throughout the year as well, sharing their expertise. For example, a lawyer will explain to the class how to incorporate a business or create a partnership, while a sales professional will share sales techniques and goals.
When students were brainstorming ideas at the beginning of the school year, Mersch encouraged students to identify problems that could potentially be addressed with a business solution. The students ideas have ranged from tech savvy, to developing a physical product to sell.
One group identified New Trier’s parking problems when big events are held at the school, as something that could be addressed through a Smartphone app. The team’s idea is to connect people seeking parking with nearby residents who have available parking in their driveways. Alternatively, another team’s idea is exfoliating soap that uses up old coffee grinds.
Mersch has found it’s been challenging for some students to be in a class that is unstructured. “To have the freedom to think outside the box without the traditional structures has been difficult for some students,” he said. But developing those skills is an invaluable part of starting a new business.
Students are also learning that businesses experience setbacks. As the class progresses, students go through all of the steps necessary to start a business, such as calculating costs and revenue projections, developing a revenue plan, or identifying customers. After completing a unit, some teams realized that their business idea needed to be changed. For example, the soap team shifted their original idea from a soap-making kit to actually selling soap, after considering potential customers.
The class has turned out to be popular — over 60 students are enrolled this year. While many of the students are interested in majoring in business in college, some nontraditional students were drawn to the class as well, such as a student interested in fashion who hopes to launch a clothing line.
Ultimately those who’ve enjoyed it the most, are teams who pursued ideas they care about. “The groups that are doing the best are excited about it and want to meet outside of class,” Mersch said.