The future is brighter thanks to students taking the Business Incubator and Accelerator Program at Barrington High School. These progressive courses, centered around entrepreneurship, are offered to sophomores, juniors, and seniors, who are taught the art of business from ideation to execution, and everything in between. Led by Business Incubator teacher, Hagop Soulakian, this course was introduced in 2013 and is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation. The Business Incubator program is what the first year of the course is called, where students are put into groups to identify a problem they’d like to solve. Students then put a business model together and validate their model through focus groups and interviewing potential clients. Their model is then presented to a board of investors in search of a small grant to test the model in action. The final business model is then presented (along with its valuation) to investors who determine which of the groups will receive additional grant money to make the idea come to life. Once a group is granted funding, they qualify for the Accelerator Program—the name of the second year of the course.
For senior Regan Albertson and juniors Mikey Lindh and Ryan Tripathy, that’s exactly how their business, DogWare, LLC, took off. The team was invited to the Accelerator Program after earning funding from a board of investors in May of 2021. Shortly thereafter, junior Kate Lubinsky was hired to join the team.
DogWare is an innovative dog leash that doesn’t tangle. The idea came about when Tripathy noticed the leashes of his two dogs, Andy and Ellie, would get tangled when he took them on walks. “This was not only hectic, but it resulted in Ellie falling over and almost hurting herself,” says Tripathy. “Soon after I realized there needed to be a solution to this problem.”
After some trial and error, the students came up with an innovative design to solve the issue. “Originally we had tape and wire wrapped around our leash,” says Albertson.
“After several rounds of testing and focus groups, we landed on heated tubing for both use and aesthetic purposes.” The leash now consists of braided polypropylene wrapped in plastic heat-shrink tubing, and it comes in three different sizes and various colors.
“As soon as we migrated into the Accelerator Program you could see the difference from day one,” says Lindh. “[Mr. Soulakian] provided us with a marketing course which helped out our business with all marketing needs and I think this is the reason why we have so many online sales.”
“Next year Regan is graduating—which will be an adjustment—but she is very dedicated to the business and will continue working on it from college while Ryan, Mikey, and I will continue to work on the business throughout our senior year of high school,” says Lubinsky. “After we all graduate high school, we plan to continue to develop DogWare in college.”
As for seniors Sofia Cesarone and Abby Whitaker, and junior Megan DeGrazia, they took over an existing business called Community Butler—a service that connects the community to local high school students to perform tasks such as lawn care, snow removal, babysitting, and other services. It was founded by Barrington High School alumni Ally Koshobe, Paddy Furlong, and Miles Patel, who all still oversee the business in various roles.
At the end of May last year, Cesarone was hired as marketing manager, Whitaker as operations manager, and DeGrazia as the financial manager. “We are always looking for new ‘butlers,’ which is what we call the people who do the jobs,” says Cesarone. “In fact, we have a sign-up form on our website and anyone that meets the qualifications can become a butler, join the group, and get paid.”
“The business began operations in 2020, and currently we are fully operating with new and old customer bookings every week,” says Cesarone. “We are also in the process of adding new jobs—such as music lessons—and are constantly brainstorming new ways to improve and expand our business.” The goal for Community Butler is to be able to expand to other areas outside of Barrington.
“We are currently working on that right now by seeking out new butlers and marketing outlets in those areas,” she says.
“The main growth I see in my students is their confidence level,” says Soulakian. “They are more confident in how they handle themselves with others, how they manage their time, and have become empowered to help themselves in successfully preparing for the next chapter of their lives.” Although the Business Incubator and Accelerator Program cultivates entrepreneurship, the program doesn’t just prepare students to be business leaders. Soulakian emphasizes the program uses the business aspect to assist students to develop much-needed interpersonal and intrapersonal skills for everyday life.
The Accelerator Program is unlike any other homework assignment. These courses take an idea and turn it into a real-life business that can earn students an A and the opportunity to put CEO on their resumé. A truly exciting opportunity.
For more information visit dogwarellc.com and thecommunitybutler.com.