Business INCubatoredu program begins in St. Charles high schools
An entrepreneurship program growing in popularity among suburban schools has made its way to St. Charles Unit District 303, where nearly 100 high schoolers will spend the academic year developing their own startup companies.
At each high school, a classroom has been converted into a business incubator with flexible seating and an attached conference room to encourage innovation and group discussion, said Melissa Byrne, District 303 director of college and career readiness.
Dozens of business owners, community leaders and corporate professionals have volunteered to act as mentors and coaches to the young entrepreneurs. And within the district's four INCubatoredu sections, students have teamed up with the peers with whom they will embark on their business ventures.
The next step: Finding a solution to a common problem and building a business around it.
"This is such a unique opportunity for our students and community members to come together to truly engage in an innovative, authentic, hands-on learning experience that does prepare students for career, college and life," Byrne said.
The INCubatoredu curriculum, created by local nonprofit Uncharted Learning, was first implemented five years ago at Barrington High School. The program involves groups of students developing business plans, including financial projections and marketing strategies, with help from community stakeholders.
The class culminates with a pitch night event at the end of the year, Byrne said. Similar to the TV show "Shark Tank," the teams will present their products or services to a group of investors in hopes of receiving funding to get their businesses off the ground.
That event also determines which student teams can enroll in the next level of the program -- ACCELeratoredu -- to further develop their businesses the following year.
"This is a really well thought out curriculum model," Byrne said. "The students engage in a series of lessons that help them along the process."
District 303 educators spent two years conducting on-site visits, soliciting feedback and researching INCubatoredu before the program went live at St. Charles North and East high schools this year. The concept was approved by the school board last fall.
The district also has implemented the middle school-level version of the program, called mxINCedu, Byrne said. Lasting one quarter versus an entire year, the class offers a taste of entrepreneurship centered around the theme of "reduce, reuse and recycle," she said.
Both high schools are hosting open houses this week for students, their families, district officials and community members to check out the INCubatoredu spaces and learn more about the class. Volunteer mentors and coaches also will be available to discuss their involvement in the program.
The event at St. Charles North will take place at 3 p.m. today in room 400. The St. Charles East open house will be held at the same time Tuesday in room B202.
Program: Both high schools are hosting open houses for students this week