Pandemic forces Barrington High School entrepreneurship students to adjust on the fly

  • This is a Barrington High School entrepreneurship class before the COVID-19 pandemic this year. Instead of a big affair in a crowded Barrington High auditorium, the annual business incubator pitch night winners were announced over a Zoom teleconference Thursday evening.

    This is a Barrington High School entrepreneurship class before the COVID-19 pandemic this year. Instead of a big affair in a crowded Barrington High auditorium, the annual business incubator pitch night winners were announced over a Zoom teleconference Thursday evening. Courtesy of Hagop Soulakian

  • Michael Miles, who co-founded the nonprofit INCubatoredu program at Barrington High School in 2013, on a Zoom teleconference Thursday night. He congratulated winners from the school's entrepreneurship program for receiving a combined $20,500 in investments from private sources in a pitch night final.

      Michael Miles, who co-founded the nonprofit INCubatoredu program at Barrington High School in 2013, on a Zoom teleconference Thursday night. He congratulated winners from the school's entrepreneurship program for receiving a combined $20,500 in investments from private sources in a pitch night final. Bob Susnjara | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 5/27/2020 12:59 PM

Some Barrington High School entrepreneurship students have learned how to deal with business curveballs that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of an affair in Barrington High's auditorium where the finalists typically pitch their startup companies in a setting similar to ABC's "Shark Tank," this year's business incubator winners were announced in a Zoom teleconference Thursday. Three of the five finalists received a combined $20,500 in investments from private sources.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Michael Miles, who co-founded the nonprofit INCubatoredu program at Barrington High in 2013, congratulated all the teams on behalf of the judges and investors. In-person school attendance abruptly ended in March and forced some changes in the competition ahead of the final round, organizers said.

"I'm involved in a lot of companies, as many of the adults on the (Zoom) call are, and it's really a skill set you guys all learned on how to adapt and adjust," Miles told the teenagers. "And it was really, really impressive to see how your businesses maintained and many of them just continued to flourish."

Business incubator instructor Hagop Soulakian said the students took the challenge of working on their companies in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic as an introduction to adapting to obstacles outside of their control.

"The last couple months have provided these kids with opportunities to display entrepreneurial skills and traits that they can take to any other classroom, any other school and any other workplace," Soulakian said. "By reviewing the agenda I would send out each Sunday evening, by setting up weekly video conferences with me, adjusting their testing to reflect their new reality, they were able to expand their learning."

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Investors committed $9,000 and received 15.5% of equity in student Oliver Valskis' Melo Shot, pitched as a compact, tasty 2-ounce melatonin drink.

Investors liked Morning Friend from Jennifer Lopez and Nick Pitzaferro. The students received a $5,500 commitment for 10% equity in an app that allows someone to send personal messages to be used as alarms.

"This is an idea that you can really, really have fun with and there's a real great opportunity for this to go viral," Miles told Lopez and Pitzaferro. "We look forward to working with you next year on it."

Zach Bromet, Mark Hennin, Nathan Pieropan, Vabo Shah and Emma Trowbridge are behind Genius Hub, a website for Advanced Placement resources. They received $6,000 in exchange for giving 14% of equity to the investors.

The privately funded INCubatoredu curriculum, created by village nonprofit Uncharted Learning, started at Barrington High in 2013 and has expanded to 230 schools in 22 states, Mexico and Japan. Soulakian said the program has served 608 Barrington High students.

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