Mark Cuban, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and all of the other entrepreneurial legends have a sense of what 22 students of Lewisville High School were feeling on “Pitch Night 2019.” Sure, there was excitement, fueled by adrenaline and passion. However, there was also a laser-like focus and calm that can only come from the complete and utter confidence that results from relentless preparation. The five teams had done the work and it was now time to bring home the bacon.
These future business visionaries had spent the school year participating in one of the most challenging scholastic and career programs in the world - The Lewisville Independent School District’s (LISD) INCubatoredu program. This class, more commonly referred to by participants and instructors as the “Incubator program,” is changing lives of students who would prefer to enter the business world directly out of high school. Based on what was displayed duringLewisville High School’s “Pitch Night,” these students will be the catalyst for change for decades to come and their lives and our world will never be the same.
An Authentic Entrepreneurial Experience
According to the website for this innovative curriculum, “INCubatoredu is a full-year course and offers an authentic entrepreneurship experience as students build a business. Students make mistakes, take risks and learn to pivot. They develop their own product or service startup to gain investment funds in a final shark-tank style pitch event. Real entrepreneurs and industry experts serve as volunteer coaches and mentors guiding student teams through the processes of developing hypotheses about a business concept, testing those hypotheses, adapting, and continually learning and improving.
“Students leave the course having completed a ‘Business Model Canvas’, competitive analysis, financial model, minimum viable product, pitch deck, future communications plan, and future funding plan.”
It Started With a Public School/Community Partnership
As with many of the innovative programs of LISD, the Incubator program is a partnership with the community and its leaders and the school district. These partnerships are often developed by LISD’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, Lindsay Ayers.
“There was grant money available from the City of Lewisville,” Ayers said, “And I loved the idea of the Incubator program. While it was challenging to convey how this partnership might benefit both students and the city, since the funding was available, it made it more attractive for all parties. From the very beginning, it was obvious to all stakeholders that this program would make the subject matter real for the students.”
New curricula are usually challenging to implement. Was this the case with the LISD Incubator?
“Actually no,” Ayers said. “There were very few problems in implementing this program. About the only challenge was having enough schools and kids to meet the demands of all the volunteers who wanted to be involved! We had a wait list of business leaders who wanted to help.”
Entrepreneurs and These Students are “Type A”
Before realizing her passion was teaching high school students, Incubator teacher Valerie Cooper was in the business world and her real-world savvy is obvious in her direction of her students. She noted that the personalities and drive of the kids in this program are definitely “Type A.”
“In my experience, high school students really believe that they are going to be successful,” Cooper said. “They believe that six-figure salaries are guaranteed and that everyone can be the next YouTube sensation! Because they see this success all the time, they think they can also do it.
“What’s interesting about this class is that the students come in with their own ideas about what success means. They know they want to be a businessman or woman but they don’t quite understand what it means to really do this. This class gives them the practical steps that are necessary for them to be successful.
“They use the skills they learn in our ‘Start-Up’ program to navigate their next steps in the business world. With this program, they can learn about the various industries that they might enjoy. This could be anything from the sports management, to healthcare, to entertainment and everything in between. They are able to explore different avenues in different professions.”
Finally...It’s Pitch Night!
Anyone who has seen the “Shark Tank” program, where entrepreneurs “pitch” well-known business leaders, such as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, on investing in their start-up enterprise, knows the basics of the LISD Pitch Night competition. Like Shark Tank, the atmosphere of Pitch Night is electric.
Cooper explained, “This program was the opportunity for five student teams to present their ideas to investors for start-up funding for their business ideas - both products and services. This enabled them to gain experience for live, public pitches.
“We started with 14 teams in the beginning of the competition,” she said. “Two teams - deemed ‘Farmer’s Favorites’ - came from a competition at Lewisville High School. The other three teams were chosen by an academic board and these teams were evaluated on the basis of their presentation skills and their innovative ideas.
“It gave the students the opportunity to learn how to create a product or service, organize its features and benefits, present their pitch and make their ‘ask.’ You might think that these students could be nervous, but they weren't. These kids like to show off. Plus, they were so passionate about their product that they couldn’t wait to get up there and get started.”
The judges for the competition included, Lori Fickling, President of the Lewisville Area Chamber of Commerce, TJ Gilmore, Councilman for the City of Lewisville, Karen Hibbs, representative of The Hudson Foundation, Julia Santosuosso from the Corporate Stewardship Department of Mary Kay, Inc., and Harold Strong, CEO of CodeStream Studios.
The winning team for the LISD Pitch Night is composed of:
・ Samuel Akisanmi,
・ Wesley Brewer
・ Jacqueline Hernandez
・ Giselle Porras
These students were awarded $4,000 dollars to continue to grow their business. There is a possibility they will compete at the national INCubatoredu competition in Chicago this summer.
Every Success Comes From Something Before It
The Incubator program is part of a trend of high schools offering curriculum alternatives to students who might be interested in entering the workforce right after high school. The fact that many successful technology entrepreneurs have decided to forgo college and begin working on products and services for which they are passionate, is fueling this trend.
“At the end of the day, LISD wants our students to have the tools to be successful in any avenue of life they choose,” Ayers said. “We know some of our kids are going to do the four-year college route and that’s the path that they really want. However, we know that for some of our kids, that might not be reality for them either now or in the future.
“We do have really incredible trade training programs, which we call ‘career centers,’ in the district. They teach specific skills but many of these skills could be stand-alone businesses when the right entrepreneurial training is applied.
“Ideally, the Incubator program would be taken by any student who is interested in business, whether they are going to be an entrepreneur or not, to get the experience of such things as learning to read a financial statement. Because it gives such a deep knowledge of the business world, every student will benefit from it.
“The other interesting aspect of this program is that our students are getting some much- needed interaction with businessmen and women who have had to ‘pivot’ throughout their careers. Many of these successful businesspeople had tried something and then changed, sometimes numerous times. These real-world stories have an impact on our high school kids. They may think that they want to do one thing for the rest of their lives, but it's good for them to hear from other people who thought they wanted to do one thing and ended up being successful doing something else. The students see that every profession is constantly evolving and every success comes from something that came before it.”
Valerie Cooper agrees with Ayers.
“Speaking from personal experience, college is an expensive place to find yourself. By providing students with these types of programs, I believe we can help them to find their passion and give them the steps to pursue it. If they don’t enjoy it, they can ‘check it off’ their list.
“I had a student who went through the course and was certain that they wanted to be an entrepreneur. They came from a family of entrepreneurs and expected to follow this path. When the final exam came around, the student was asked to give me his biggest takeaway and he said, ‘I learned that I do not want to do this! I do not have the grit to launch by myself and take on all this responsibility.’ I thought, Hey, that’s great. Now you can figure out your next step.”
The Advantages of a Public School Education
There are many things for parents to consider when choosing between a public school district and alternative schools of choice. Since LISD is a public school district, there are many more educational and extracurricular options for students that might be available in other schools of choice. Is this difference important for parents to consider when choosing the best option for their family?
“Absolutely,” Cooper said. “At LISD we teach the whole child and this incubator program is just another way that we can reach our student population.
“I would add, from a partnership perspective, we have hundreds of business partners working with us,” Ayers said. “I don’t know the number of businesses that are involved with other schools of choice, but I would guess that they would not have nearly the number of companies that we have. We have hundreds of people invested in the lives of the kids on our 68campuses and among our 51,000 students. These business leaders want to help them succeed. They want to help them see what is ahead when they graduate
“There are many options and the working world is changing at an incredibly rapid pace. If our students are not tapped into the needs of the working world and how they can be successful, we would be doing them a disservice. One of my favorite things about our district is that we have robust partnerships and this gives our students insight into what is available once they graduate.”
If you want the best programs for your children, Care to Compare the public school experience of LISD. For more information on the LISD INCubatoredu Program or to get involved, click here.