Entrepreneurship is a hallmark of the American economy. It's also why educators nationwide increasingly are focusing on fostering innovative business ideas in high school to help prepare the next generation of budding entrepreneurs.
Prairie Ridge High School in Crystal Lake jumped on the business incubator bandwagon this school year. It will host its first Business Incubator Pitch Night Monday as a culmination of a yearlong capstone business class. The event is open to the public.
• Find Fresh by students Cole Brown, Tyler Covers, Robert Masini and Trey Fuchs -- an app for buying and selling fresh local produce and helping farmers sell directly to consumers. Consumers can shop farms online and pre-order grocery lists.
• Train Together by students Zachary Yelle and Jack Mayher -- a workout app that helps with communication between coaches and athletes in the off-season.
• Equipment Lodge by Joseph Pinsky, David Vogt and Samuel Price -- a website for new and used sporting gear of all types.
• Fridge 4.0 by Nikolaus Koelblinger, Elise Reiche, Rajiv Sehgal, Cole Delage and Nicholas Ilkow -- an ice/water purifier and dispenser with room for a pizza box for college dorm rooms.
• InSourced by Matthew Hoyland, Carl Frasor, Nolan Yager and Patrick Yeschek -- a portable networking app for business professionals using a geo-locator to connect with other professionals in the area.
Contest judges: Mary Margaret Maule, president of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce; Pam Cumpata, president of the McHenry County Economic Development Corporation; Mike Domek, president of The Domek Foundation of Crystal Lake; Dave Secrest, District 155 school board member; Patricia Miller, CEO of Matrix 4 Inc., of Woodstock; and Mike Nakamura, owner of The Lovely Candy Company in Algonquin.
School-based business incubators are becoming popular in the suburbs. The high school entrepreneurship program INCubatoredu -- a nonprofit founded in 2014 and launched in Barrington -- involves students in 13 states. In Illinois the program is offered at 37 high schools, including several in Cook, Lake and Kane counties.
Woodstock is the other McHenry County high school to launch a program this year.
The class started with 10 teams and 50 students who competed for five finalist slots. On pitch night, the teams will present their original service or product ideas to a panel of business leaders in a competition similar to ABC's "Shark Tank."
Participation was open to students from the four Crystal Lake District 155 high schools. Because it's the first year, only Prairie Ridge students joined, said Kevin Koeppen, industry and careers division leader.
The INCubatoredu classroom was added last summer as part of an expansion project at the high school. It is designed to replicate a professional business environment and includes a conference room, several HD monitors, mobile furniture, and whiteboard walls -- more conducive to facilitating presentations and collaborative work.
"One of the incubator businesses was called Equipment Lodge -- an online equipment sales company. They actually went live for a short amount of time for the students to sell products," Koeppen said.
Incubators can provide substantial seed money to fledgling businesses. Earlier this month, a team of student entrepreneurs from Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville was awarded a $20,000 startup package to launch a business marketing and selling mud-resistant spray for athletic cleats. And groups of Round Lake High School students vied for a $2,500 cash prize in the school's first Incubator Pitch Night last week.
At Prairie Ridge's pitch night, a cash prize donated by local businesses will be awarded to the winning and runner-up teams.
Koeppen hopes for larger cash prizes in the future. However, the greater reward is giving students the opportunity to gain real-world experience on how to start a business, learn communication skills and how to network with local entrepreneurs, he added.
"We put them on the right path before they go to college," he said. "For students that want to get into business, it gives them a leg up."
On Monday, several local business owners will be in attendance, and students will have time to network before making their pitches.
The evening will begin with a Pride of Crystal Lake award presented by the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce. Student groups will have tables and booths set up to highlight their achievements from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the foyer. The pitch contest is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the auditorium, 6000 Dvorak Drive.
"We're excited to showcase our students' successes," Koeppen said. "The night is run by our students ... from the stage setup to the intermission entertainment. We want to show off what the young people in our community can do."