Hopeful young entrepreneurs at Glenbrook North and Glenbrook South high schools are about to experience their own version of the hit ABC reality TV show Shark Tank.
After nine months of brainstorming, refining and test-driving their nascent business models, students in the Glenbrook South and Glenbrook North business incubator programs are busily preparing to present their pitch decks and investor packets to a panel of eight local business advisors at “Pitch Night.” The goal: to win seed money that could turn their ideas into profit. Both GBN and GBS will host separate pitch nights – both open to the public – on May 31 at 7 p.m. on each school’s campus.
Offered at the Glenbrooks for the first time this year, the business incubator elective course offers students full academic credit and the added opportunity to create and fully develop their own product or service. The program’s curriculum materials and teaching methodology were devised by the Barrington-based non-profit, INCubatoredu, whose business incubator program is now being taught in high schools across United States. “Pitch Night” winners could receive up to $5,000 of seed money from an available fund of $10,000 raised by private community donors, current parents and alumnae of The Glenbrooks.
Under the guiding hand of course instructor Mike Macfadden, 18 students at Glenbrook South have collaborated in teams of three to five people to bring their own fledgling business concepts from ideation to implementation. As the teams worked throughout the school year to distill their ideas, talents and available resources into viable business models, the students’ projects evolved. Some initial ideas needed tweaking; others have been discarded or rebuilt.
“The business incubator curriculum is based heavily on recognizing market opportunities but also the importance of having passion for a project,” said Macfadden. “Without the right motivation, a project often fizzles out.”
Keen to keep start-up costs low by maximizing existing resources, many teams have built business models around the physical and human capital available to them at school.
The team behind The Wooden Shade Company is utilizing pieces of scrap wood discarded by students enrolled in GBS’s woodworking program. The wood is repurposed using a school-owned band saw and spindle sander and retrofitted as temples for premade sunglass frames. Senior Karan Khatwani and juniors Tyler West and Yuriy Melenchuk hope their woodworking skills and business acumen will convince the panel of advisors to award them prize money to take their business concept to the next level.
One ambitious team of GBS entrepreneurs isn’t waiting for seed money. Juniors Drew Gonzalez and Dylan Garvey and senior Sean Morrison own One Stop Lacrosse, an equipment rental service for young athletes keen to test drive new sports like hockey, lacrosse and football, before committing to the purchase of hundreds of dollars worth of gear.
“I looked in my garage one day and it was full of equipment from all the sports I tried but ultimately gave up, “ said Morrison, who’ll be attending Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business in the fall. “It seemed like a huge waste of money.”
Using lacrosse gear supplied at a nominal fee by GBS’s athletic department, supplemented with new and used gear sourced from other locations, the three co-owners are already turning a small profit. One Stop Lacrosse already boasts a steady stream of clients through a partnership with the Glenbrook Park District’s lacrosse program, but “Pitch Night” prize money would enable the company to expand into new markets.
Unlike the “Shark Tank” model, where investors negotiate with entrepreneurs for an equity stake in their company, the Glenbrook’s “Pitch Night” will follow a prize structure. Winning student entrepreneurs receive a share of a $10,000 funding pool, but retain full ownership of their businesses. The funded start-ups would then move into INCubatoredu’s business accelerator program, designed as a second year continuation of the incubator course for teams ready to begin launching a business.
“Having an authentic learning experience has incredible value to these students,” said Macfadden. “This isn’t a pared down student version of a business incubator and accelerator model. This is already being used in industry.”