Prairie Ridge High School launches business incubator for student entrepreneurs

CRYSTAL LAKE – Budding student entrepreneurs attending Prairie Ridge High School now have a chance to see what it takes to make their dreams of a company or product a reality.

Modeled after the program created and started by Barrington High School, the Community High School District 155 school launched INCubator Edu at the beginning of the school year. The yearlong course provides students with the opportunity to create and fully develop their own product or service. Students will learn planning, business regulation, finances, legal, sales and marketing.

Entrepreneurs and business experts in the McHenry County community are serving as volunteer coaches and mentors to guide the student teams as they work from ideation to product development.

The end goal? Present the idea or product to a panel of local entrepreneurs and business leaders with a “Shark Tank”-style pitch at the end of the year.

Bryan Peckhart, the instructor for the course, said he wants every student to be able to network and learn from people who are “content specialists.” Currently, 48 students are enrolled in two sections that run for the entire school year. This program is the first of its kind in McHenry County.

Peckhart said after visiting Barrington High School three years ago to see its incubator program, he was convinced it was something Prairie Ridge needed. After the program initially was approved, he and industry and careers department head Kevin Koeppen went out into the community to build networks and relationships with potential mentors and coaches.

Scott Codute, vice president, area central, at Porsche Cars North America Inc., is one of the coaches for the course. He said the class prepares students well for both college and life after education, especially learning soft skills such as eye contact and firm handshakes.

“It’s a great introduction for students into business and real life,” Codute said.

The classroom, an open space designed for students to collaborate, create and innovate, features a conference room, several HD monitors, mobile furniture and whiteboard walls. The room also has cubbies for students to put their things at the beginning of each course so they are able to feel as if they are leaving school and entering a business-like environment.

Senior Emmanuel Ebirim said he first heard about the course last year from Peckhart. The 17-year-old said he is interested in running his own business one day and knew the course was something he “wanted to have under his belt.”

“This is everything you’ll use in real life,” Ebirim said.

His group’s idea is a shower mat marketed to college students who are living in dorms or other communal living, and do not want to wear flip flops or shower without shoes.

Jacqueline Kohlmann, a junior student in the class, said although she is interested in medicine, she wants to have a solid business background moving forward and believes the course will be a good start in doing so.

“As a 16-year-old, you don’t always get to learn from business professionals,” Kohlmann said.

Senior Carl Frasor, who also is president of the Future Business Leaders of America, said he is interested in international business and is looking forward to the hands-on experience the course will provide for each student.

Peckhart said he looks forward to seeing how the students grow throughout the year in their presentation skills and overall understanding of the real world.

“It’s not about having the next Google or Facebook. It’s about developing soft skills … learning how to apply stuff that’s real and tangible,” Peckhart said.

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