District 303's INCubatoredu program gives students practical entrepreneurial experience
ST. CHARLES- Adorning the wall in one of the classrooms/business incubators at St. Charles East is the quote, “You never lose in business. You either win or learn.”
Such a statement most definitely applies to all the students who pitched product ideas to local business professionals this week as part of the new District 303 INCubatoredu program, which affords students with the challenge of building a start-up from the ground up while it helps them develop and improve a variety of skills, including adaptability, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving.
“It’s a brand new class here that’s part of a national program through Uncharted Learning,” said Dr. Melissa Byrne. “They’ve been working on their ideas since the beginning of the school year in August and now that it’s the midpoint of the year, they’ll take the feedback they’ve received and work for the final end of the year pitch where they will see if they get funding and go into the second year of the program.”
That next level is known as the ACCELeratoredu program, and who is invited to participate in it will be determined at the final pitch night on May 21.
Students participating in the program at St. Charles North and St. Charles East pitched their ideas on Feb. 5-7 in front of their classmates as well as diverse groups of local business professionals.
“It has really strong community involved with about 80 volunteers,” Byrne said. “The groups are matched with a mentor, a business person from the community, to help guide them throughout the process and to get them ready for this event now at the mid-point of the year.”
St. Charles East student Matthew Ash explained that like many of his peers, he has a difficult time getting out of bed in the morning, and that his company Shake to Wake’s vibrating pad will help him.
For sleepyheads like Ash, this product will allow you to connect your phone via Bluetooth to a bed pad, which would be activated and vibrate to wake you up at the time you’ve pre-set.
Ash explained how the product would target high school students, such as a 17-year-old named Phil, whose busy schedule includes being a three-sport athlete, an employee at Chipotle and a student who is often up past midnight doing homework.
“He has a hard time waking up,” Ash said. “A lot of people deal with this and I’ve been late for school multiple times because of it. We did a lot of interviews and concluded that many teens and adults have this problem.”
This idea caught the attention of Chris Flood, business reference librarian for the St. Charles Public Library, who mentioned that she has a daughter who also is a chronic oversleeper so she turned to Amazon to find a product that would help.
“There’s a little device and it’s Bluetooth and you put it in your pillowcase and it vibrates your pillow and makes a sound,” Flood said. “You may want to look into it. I think the bed pad is not a bad idea because you can just toss the pillow to the ground and yours would stay.”
Area business leaders like Flood asked questions and shared their thoughts with the students after they made their pitches, while teacher Keith Glavan explained that the whole process of this program is a grind.
“You’re going to see that there are different places in this journey,” he said. “This whole thing started off with a problem that they wanted to solve and then they made some guesses of what they thought was a good solution and then they did interviews, and the whole process is testing it, failing it and redirecting it and that’s what they’ll do now for the remainder of the year.”
Product pitches were varied, but all shared the common bond of taking a problem and creating a product to solve it.
“We have someone with dog collars with built-in GPS trackers and an app,” Byrne said. “Some others at North are working on a true eco-friendly combo garbage/recycling bin which will separate the items to minimize waste and the amount of time it takes to empty it. They noticed the problem around sporting events and parks and like the idea of cleaning up the areas around St. Charles.”
One of Thursday’s final pitches was by “Dip-N-Sip” who presented a stirring stick that can be dipped into coffee or soup and changes colors to signify if the temperature is safe for consumption.
The group explained that most people prefer to sip coffee that’s 120-140 degrees while 180 degrees is far too hot. With their product, and some patience, consumers could potentially avoid burning their lips.
Another group shared their idea for a weatherproof phone-protector sleeve that will ensure phones are safeguarded in extreme weather. St. Charles East junior Matt Clancy discussed an incident where he was left stranded at a soccer game during nasty weather, but with no means to call his parents to pick him up because the cold and rainy weather had rendered his phone useless.
“Eventually they pulled up and were shocked to see their 10-year-old freezing,” Clancy said. “They were mortified because their son could’ve been kidnapped or frozen to death, and this would be the solution as it would protect the phone with a heater.”
But without that personal experience, would Clancy’s group’s idea have ever come to fruition?
That question and countless others are part of the journey that has made this inaugural class so valuable and popular among students, as well as faculty and those within the community who are sharing their time to ensure that it’s successful.