BATAVIA – A synergy between local business leaders and students has been heating up in the INCubator Entrepreneurship course at Batavia High School.
The creative spirit underlying the program has carried over to a makeover of the classroom, whose recent unveiling brought together some of the program’s volunteer coaches and mentors, along with school staff and students eager to talk about the business projects they are bringing to life.
The course’s program director is Brian Gamlin. Since last year, BHS teacher and football and track coach Dennis Piron has been the instructor. Attending the grand opening was the developer of the course curriculum, Margarita Geleske of INCubatoredu of Barrington. She said Piron is one of 60 participating teachers across the country.
Seth Winkle, a senior and teacher’s assistant for the course, called it the most hands-on class he has ever taken, adding he appreciates the perspective gained from coaching presentations by local professionals ranging from lawyers, web developers, accountants and financial advisers to small-business owners and marketing people.
“It helped me choose what I want to major in – finance,” Winkle said.
Mason Pifer, a junior, is part of the student team developing the Navigamers website.
“It’s really cool to see how real business works,” Pifer said.
The volunteer mentor for his team is Furkan Gur, a professor who teaches a hands-on startup model at Northern Illinois University and arranged for the INCubator students to visit the business school on the DeKalb campus.
Gur said his class at NIU draws on the “Shark Tank” television show concept, which is similar to the Pitch Night that BHS students will compete in at 6:30 p.m. May 17. The community is invited to attend, and fundraising efforts are underway.
The INCubator course consists of 80 teaching units, and about half involve bringing in business professionals to teach the students, said Bob Hubbard of Batavia, who uses his networking skills to arrange for the volunteer coaches. He said he knows a lot of people in town thanks to his former longtime business, Hubbard’s Ethan Allen Gallery.
A coach who attended the grand opening was Batavian Sean Sebold of Sebold Capital Management in Naperville. He teaches topics such as calculating market share. He praised the confidence the experience-focused program instills in students, along with the life skills of learning to work as a team.
Each of the student teams has a volunteer mentor, and the groups often meet off-site on weekends.
Craig Rowland, a senior, is on the team working on the time-saving Doc Clock, which he said is an app that will notify you of the waiting time at your physician’s office. He said he appreciates learning ways to adapt to different situations in business.
Daniel Gillian, a junior, is part of the Direct Dial team.
“It’s a grocery shopping app,” Gillian said. “[You’ll be able to] find items in the aisles, and will save time and hassle. Were I to create a business, this is a very valuable class.”
The course has 26 students, and Gamlin said the goal is more than 40 next year, plus the launch of an independent study program for second-year participants.
“This is such a unique opportunity,” Piron said of the course. “There’s nothing quite like this – spending one-on-one time with business professionals.”
Gamlin said the students acquire an array of skills, including marketing and finance, along with the ability to speak publicly to groups of people and to answer questions on the fly.
Male students currently predominate in the course, and Piron plans to actively recruit more young women for the program.
He is enthusiastic about growing the course and brings the experience of having owned a small business into play, in addition to his math teaching and coaching credentials.
“The remodel feels like you are coming into a different environment and are leaving Batavia High School for a while,” Piron said of the classroom transformed into collaborative business space.
Gamlin said the redo by Interiors for Business of Batavia extends to new lighting and ceiling, donated carpeting, and plenty of whiteboards so students can brainstorm and generate ideas. High-top tables with olive-lime chairs add visual pop to the collaboration stations.
The makeover’s second phase will turn an adjoining space into a conference room for the course.
Gamlin credits the school board, the Batavia Foundation for Educational Excellence, community donors and grants for helping fund the project.
“The students have been wonderful,” Piron said of the course. “They knocked it out of the park.”