Dundee-Crown student entrepreneurs win national pitch competition

 
 
Updated 7/27/2016 4:47 PM
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  • Dundee-Crown High School's First STEP team last week won the 2016 INCubatoredu National Pitch Night Competition in Chicago against four other high schools, taking home a $5,000 grand prize.

    Dundee-Crown High School's First STEP team last week won the 2016 INCubatoredu National Pitch Night Competition in Chicago against four other high schools, taking home a $5,000 grand prize. Courtesy of Community Unit District 300

  • Senior Gabriel Martinez represents his team, First STEP, at the Business Incubator event in May at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville. First STEP won the Startup Award, a prize package valued at about $20,000. The team went on to win the recent INCubatoredu National Pitch Night Competition in Chicago.

      Senior Gabriel Martinez represents his team, First STEP, at the Business Incubator event in May at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville. First STEP won the Startup Award, a prize package valued at about $20,000. The team went on to win the recent INCubatoredu National Pitch Night Competition in Chicago. John Starks | Staff Photographer

A business idea to compost food waste from restaurants and turn it into organic fertilizer is taking root at Dundee-Crown High School, with some outside financial help.

The concept is the brainchild of First STEP, the winning team of Dundee-Crown's inaugural Business Incubator class "Pitch Night" held in May. First STEP was among five Dundee-Crown teams of student entrepreneurs that presented business plans and was awarded a $20,000 startup package.

The team also won the 2016 INCubatoredu National Pitch Night Competition last week in Chicago beating four other high schools -- Barrington, Buffalo Grove, Lake Forest and Hononegah Community in Rockton, Illinois -- to take home a $5,000 grand prize.

With the funds, team members Gabe Martinez, Ariana Diaz, Cuauhtemoc Fabian, Michael Holmes, Charles Gilly and Esteban Gonzalez are on their way to accomplishing their dream.

High school entrepreneurship program INCubatoredu -- a nonprofit founded in 2014 and first launched in Barrington -- involves roughly 60 schools and more than 2,000 students across eight states.

"This was the first year (INCubatoredu) did a national pitch for the teams that were involved," said Nick Pahl, Dundee-Crown Business Incubator instructor. "To win a competition like that, especially in our first year, is really a testament to the dedication of our kids and our volunteers."

Buffalo Grove and Dundee-Crown are in their first year of the Business Incubator program, while the other high schools that participated in the national pitch competition have been running it for two or three years, Pahl added.

"Everybody that was there was well-prepared," Pahl said. "The kids were amazing. The pitches were awesome."

First STEP's business concept involves getting local restaurants to pay a monthly fee for First STEP employees to pick up organic food waste, which then would be composted, packaged and sold to tree nurseries, landscaping companies and stores. Currently, the students are picking up food waste from Emmett's Brewing Company in West Dundee, whose owner Andy Burns was their mentor last school year.

The students sought $17,000 in startup funds to establish their business. In addition to the $5,000 grand prize, they received a couple of investment offers during the national pitch competition, Pahl said.

"We are creating a plan for the use of those funds and then next year we are going to be running that business and another business from Dundee-Crown High School," Pahl said.

By next week, First STEP and the team that placed second in Dundee-Crown's pitch competition will be registered as limited liability companies (LLC) and operate their businesses from the high school this upcoming school year.

The second place team's concept is creating a monthly subscription service, dubbed "MaleBox," for boys and men between 16 and 30 years old. For $20 a month, they would receive five products for grooming, health, food, tech gadgets and productivity.

Both teams also will be entered into other national and regional business pitch competitions, such as Judson University's "Shark Tank" contest in November, Pahl said.

"We're just trying to get them as much exposure as possible," he said. "The more competitions that we can (enter) into, the more chance they will have of being successful."

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