Student startups win seed money at Dist. 303 pitch night

  • INCubatoredu team Pet Vision from St. Charles East High School won $4,000 to help develop its product, a dog collar with GPS tracking, LED lights and a "contact owner" button. The team includes, from left, sophomore Jacob Daeschler, junior Dylan Both, senior Caleb Wright, mentor Robert Saxe and senior Jack Craney.

    INCubatoredu team Pet Vision from St. Charles East High School won $4,000 to help develop its product, a dog collar with GPS tracking, LED lights and a "contact owner" button. The team includes, from left, sophomore Jacob Daeschler, junior Dylan Both, senior Caleb Wright, mentor Robert Saxe and senior Jack Craney. Courtesy of St. Charles Unit District 303

  • St. Charles North High School INCubatoredu team Right On Time won $2,000 during pitch night for its software that offers real-time updates on upcoming appointments and delays. From left, students Cece Wahlberg, Maddie Solomon and Ashlyn Aichele, with their mentor, Therese Minnec, created the concept throughout the school year.

    St. Charles North High School INCubatoredu team Right On Time won $2,000 during pitch night for its software that offers real-time updates on upcoming appointments and delays. From left, students Cece Wahlberg, Maddie Solomon and Ashlyn Aichele, with their mentor, Therese Minnec, created the concept throughout the school year. Courtesy of St. Charles Unit District 303

  • SetMyFuture, an INCubatoredu team from St. Charles North, won $4,000 for its job search website targeting teens and young adults. The startup team includes, from left, sophomore Brigid Redmond-Mattucci, senior Justin Powell, senior Dominick Mastrangeli and mentor George Caravelli. Student Lexxi Guadagnoli is not pictured.

    SetMyFuture, an INCubatoredu team from St. Charles North, won $4,000 for its job search website targeting teens and young adults. The startup team includes, from left, sophomore Brigid Redmond-Mattucci, senior Justin Powell, senior Dominick Mastrangeli and mentor George Caravelli. Student Lexxi Guadagnoli is not pictured. Courtesy of St. Charles Unit District 303

  • St. Charles North High School senior Justin Powell, right, pitches the business plan he created with senior Dominick Mastrangeli and sophomore Brigid Redmond-Mattucci. SetMyFuture is different from other job search sites, they say, because it targets teens and young adults seeking their first jobs, internships or volunteer opportunities.

      St. Charles North High School senior Justin Powell, right, pitches the business plan he created with senior Dominick Mastrangeli and sophomore Brigid Redmond-Mattucci. SetMyFuture is different from other job search sites, they say, because it targets teens and young adults seeking their first jobs, internships or volunteer opportunities. Lauren Rohr | Staff Photographer

  • St. Charles East High School senior Jack Craney, front, describes his team's startup, PetVision, which offers a GPS tracking dog collar that also features LED lights and a "contact owner" button. He presented the business plan with his teammates, from left, junior Dylan Both, sophomore Jacob Daeschler and senior Caleb Wright.

      St. Charles East High School senior Jack Craney, front, describes his team's startup, PetVision, which offers a GPS tracking dog collar that also features LED lights and a "contact owner" button. He presented the business plan with his teammates, from left, junior Dylan Both, sophomore Jacob Daeschler and senior Caleb Wright. Lauren Rohr | Staff Photographer

  • St. Charles North students Maddie Solomon, Cece Wahlberg and Ashlyn Aichele present the business plan for their startup, Right On Time, during Tuesday's INCubatoredu Final Pitch Night.

      St. Charles North students Maddie Solomon, Cece Wahlberg and Ashlyn Aichele present the business plan for their startup, Right On Time, during Tuesday's INCubatoredu Final Pitch Night. Lauren Rohr | Staff Photographer

 
 

Come up with an everyday problem. Find a distinctive solution. Turn it into a small business.

Those were the instructions given last fall to high schoolers enrolled in a new entrepreneurship program in St. Charles Unit District 303.

Most student teams hit the ground running, determined to create a concept worthy of community resources, future investments and a strong customer base.

But St. Charles East senior Caleb Wright was skeptical. No way could a group of high schoolers develop a practical product or service, he thought, let alone something that stands a chance against professional companies.

He was happy to be wrong.

Wright's team, PetVision, was one of three student-run startups to be awarded seed money during the district's first INCubatoredu Final Pitch Night.

Similar to the ABC show "Shark Tank," six teams presented their business plans to a panel of community judges, who determined how to divvy up $10,000.

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PetVision received $4,000 to help develop a dog collar that uses GPS tracking to keep tabs on a pet's location. The group started with a vision and mission statement, members said, and eventually created a product with specialized features, such as LED lights and a "contact owner" button.

"It was very difficult to pick one issue and try and solve it ... knowing there are so many other products out there," Wright said. "I've learned a whole lot about being unique."

Another $4,000 was awarded to SetMyFuture, a team from St. Charles North that created a job search website geared toward teens and young adults.

The district will nominate both groups to participate in the INCubatoredu National Pitch competition July 17 in Chicago.

The remaining $2,000 was given to Right On Time, also from St. Charles North, for its real-time software that informs users of appointments and delays.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The pitch night culminated a yearlong class allowing students to embark on their own business ventures with help from peers, teachers and community stakeholders. The INCubatoredu curriculum, created by local nonprofit Uncharted Learning, was implemented nearly six years ago at Barrington High School and since has expanded to several other suburban schools.

More than 80 local leaders, business owners and corporate professionals volunteered to assist with St. Charles' program in its first year, said Melissa Byrne, District 303 director of college and career readiness. Some even served as mentors.

"I've seen incredible growth in each and every one of the students in really learning that entrepreneurial mindset and changing their view of what failure looks like," she said.

For St. Charles North senior Justin Powell, the biggest challenge was coming up with a product that was new and different. His team, SetMyFuture, determined that focusing on a specific demographic would set it apart from other job search sites.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"(This program) really opens your eyes to what it's like to make a company," he said. "To grow, to know the ups and downs, to know what's really behind running a business."

Students had their ideas finalized and a prototype created by the end of last semester, at which point they gave an elevator pitch to a group of judges, Byrne said. That panel provided feedback on whether the business could be sustainable and how it could be improved.

The second half of the course was spent fine-tuning those concepts, developing a long-term business plan and preparing their pitches.

"My favorite part is sharing with people what we've come up with and how far we've made it from there and the development along every step of the way," senior Jack Craney of PetVision said.

Tweaking concepts and adjusting business plans was crucial for students to create a successful product, said Shannon Stone, INCubatoredu teacher at St. Charles East. Mistakes couldn't become roadblocks.

The St. Charles East program also is taught by Keith Glavan. At North, the teacher is Steve Haftl.

The winners aren't the only teams that can move on, Byrne said. Any of the students can seek funding from additional sources and enroll in the next level of the program -- ACCELeratoredu -- to further develop their businesses next academic year.

"It's all about learning and growing and trying to emulate the skills it takes to be an entrepreneur," Stone said.

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