Dundee-Crown students preparing to launch businesses

 
 
Updated 11/17/2016 5:08 PM
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  • Volunteer Trish Glees of T.G. Consultants, left, leads a group discussion Wednesday with student entrepreneurs on ways to promote their products and services. First STEP and MaleBox, the two winning teams from Dundee-Crown High School's Business Incubator class last year, have been working from the classroom to officially run their businesses.

      Volunteer Trish Glees of T.G. Consultants, left, leads a group discussion Wednesday with student entrepreneurs on ways to promote their products and services. First STEP and MaleBox, the two winning teams from Dundee-Crown High School's Business Incubator class last year, have been working from the classroom to officially run their businesses. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Senior Devin Story of Algonquin participates in a group discussion Wednesday as they talk about ways to improve their company, MaleBox.

      Senior Devin Story of Algonquin participates in a group discussion Wednesday as they talk about ways to improve their company, MaleBox. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Volunteer Trish Glees of T.G. Consultants, leads a group discussion Wednesday with student entrepreneurs on ways to promote their products and services.

      Volunteer Trish Glees of T.G. Consultants, leads a group discussion Wednesday with student entrepreneurs on ways to promote their products and services. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Two groups of young entrepreneurs from Dundee-Crown High School are preparing to launch real businesses that stemmed from ideas for a class project.

Students in a second level of the Carpentersville school's Business Incubator program have spent several months running two small businesses: First STEP, which composts wasted food from local restaurants and turns it into organic fertilizer, and MaleBox, a monthly subscription box for college-aged men.

The startups were awarded first and second place in Dundee-Crown's inaugural "Pitch Night" last May. Among five teams to present their concepts to a group of investors, First STEP won a $20,000 startup package, and both teams advanced to Business Incubator 2, which allows them to run their companies from the classroom.

"Here, the kids are really seeing the bumps and bruises of getting a new business off the ground," instructor Nicholas Pahl said.

Since "Pitch Night," both teams have participated in a three-week summer camp, registered their businesses as LLCs and set up bank accounts. They've cold-called potential clients and met with local business owners. The team members who graduated, though still largely involved in the program, hired on younger students to help run the business.

"It's a lot more hands-on," said senior Ethan Buhrow, who was on the founding team for MaleBox. "Last year, it felt like a school project. Now it feels like we're running a real business."

Thanks to the help of volunteer mentors and consultants, Pahl said, both startups are now getting ready to bring their products and services to life.

"To see the level of professionalism in these young adults is mind-blowing," he said. "They have so much support and so much excitement in the community. It's awesome to see."

First STEP, which partnered with Emmett's Brewing Company in West Dundee and Van's Frozen Custard and Burgers in East Dundee, will pick up food waste and begin composting this month, said junior Sean Swanson of Sleepy Hollow. That compost will then be packaged and sold to local nurseries and landscaping stores.

MaleBox employees expect to send out their first box in early spring, though an exact date has not been set, said senior Devin Story of Algonquin. The company's target audience, she added, includes parents and grandparents who want to send products, snacks and other accessories to their sons and grandsons.

To promote their businesses, the teams will also decorate a storefront window for the Dickens in Dundee event Dec. 2 and 3.

Throughout the process, Pahl said, the students have learned launching a business often takes more time and costs more money than expected.

"It's kind of a wake-up call to how hard the business world is really going to be," Buhrow said, "and how hard we're going to have to work."

East Dundee resident Julia Drozdz, a senior with First STEP, said her biggest challenge has been pitching their concept to potential clients. At 17 years old, she said, it can be hard to get professional adults to take her seriously.

Still, the program has been both uplifting and reassuring for the aspiring businesswoman.

"It's just opened so many doors for me. I've met so many people through this," Drozdz said. "My experience has been extraordinary."

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