Months of hard work performed by four teams of Farmington High School students participating in the school’s INCubatorEDU program reached its climax last week when each of the groups presented their completed business plans to a panel of three judges at the second annual Final Pitch Night held Wednesday evening in Truman Auditorium.
This year’s “Board of Directors” was made up of judges Matt Sebastian, First State Community Bank president; Marlene Brockmiller of Brockmiller Construction; and Scott Plummer, owner of Plummer’s Hardware.
Christy Pierce, business instructor for the INCubatorEdu program, began the evening by talking about the program’s history and how it came to be a part of Farmington High School’s curriculum.
“Incubator started about 10 years ago in Chicago in a very large metro area that has 10 high schools,” she said. “They have 14 classes of Incubator, so for us to have one here is such a huge, huge deal for us — and I couldn’t be more proud of these students. If you’ve ever viewed an episode of Shark Tank, then you probably have a good feel for what INCubator is.
“I taught an entrepreneurship class years ago where we ended up with a binder, and it was fictitious. The binder didn’t mean anything. It didn’t have any value to it whatsoever. Every one of these four businesses that you will see pitched tonight, are actually making money at this point.”
Pierce explained that the INCubatorEDU program began at Farmington High School last year, and it is still the only school in the state of Missouri where it is offered.
“Last year I had one business make money,” she said. “This year we added another business and all four are profitable before we ever get to the final pitch. This has never happened with the INCubator program that has been going for about 10 years. They were very surprised last year that we had one [team] make as much money as what they did.”
Pierce stressed that community involvement is crucial to the program’s success.
“The students have a community champion,” she said. “We have mentors, coaches that come in periodically throughout the year to guide them in the right direction, answer questions, and simply act as a sounding board when you’re starting a business and not knowing what to do — someone there to bounce your questions off back and forth.”
This year’s mentors were Mindy Southern, communications and innovation director for Farmington Schools; Ashley Davis, senior marketing consultant for BJC HealthCare; John Boyd, CPA with Boyd & Associates; Harry Peterson, local American Family Insurance agent; Dan Combs, local businessman; Ryan Morrow, alumni of last year’s INCubator program; Brian Boyer, Boyer Funeral Homes & Crematory; Carla Wilson, Minuteman Press; and Jeff Owens, Parkland Monument Co. Acting as another information source for the students was Candy Hente, executive director of the Farmington Regional Chamber of Commerce, who was described by Pierce as “our community champion.”
Providing an explanation of how students were chosen to participate in the program, Pierce said, “I selected 14 students this year. Last year, I selected a little bit less because I didn’t know how many I could handle. Fourteen is definitely enough, I can tell you that!”
She based her selection on several factors, including grades, attendance, interest, teacher referrals and commitment.
“Commitment is the biggest of that, because working in teams, I think as we all know, is very, very difficult,” Pierce said. “I was never a student that liked to work in teams very much, because I always felt at the end, I did more. Maybe I was just that best student, I don’t know, but teams just didn’t work for me. These students have had to learn and navigate, because in the real world, of course, you don’t get to choose who you work with.
“I want to say, before we even start our pitches this evening — if you are a parent, a family member, a friend, of one of these 14 students, please be very, very proud of them. Whether they win or they lose this evening, because the amount of work and motivation it takes to get to this stage, at this age in their life, is indescribable. In the real world, if you gave someone the [challenge] of starting a business — you don’t know what you’re starting, but do it in less than nine months and make a profit — someone would say, ‘What am I going to do?’ ‘I don’t know. Figure it out.’ They have. These four teams have figured it out and have formed very successful businesses.”
According to Pierce, the students’ first pitch, called a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) pitch, was held in December.
Pierce explained, “In other words, what is the least amount of money that they need to get their product or service out into the market to see if it’s going to be a success or not? After hearing these ideas, all 14 were awarded $500 in seed money by the board of directors that you see here with me this evening, and then that’s when they really had to get to work.
“Along with this long list of mentors and our board members, we’ve had a lot of other local community members come in and give their advice, in their respectful fields of course, and I can’t thank them enough. How this evening will work is, after each pitch, I will open it up to the board to ask if they have any questions, and then we will move on to the next group.”
The four teams making their “pitch” to the Board of Directors were:
MenUs, a business offering menu ingredient information from participating restaurants for people suffering from food allergies. The team members were Reese Beckett, Graycen Pratt, Jayden Tucker and Josh Wyatt.
Imortalyze, a business providing information about people whose names are seen on memorials and tombstones. The team members were Karlianna Bloom, Amanda Ropers and Abbie Wigger.
RePlay, a non-profit business that collects used toys and then redistributes them to other children. The team members were Nora Berkbigler, Aiden Moriarty and Bob Su.
Modern Media Marketing, a business that creates various types of quality media marketing offerings at an affordable price. The team members were Alex Coomer, Annabelle DeVoto, Michael Koppeis and Taylor Mattiesen.
Following the pitches, Pierce asked the board to join her behind the stage to decide which group made the best presentation and would receive a cash prize of $2,000. After a brief time, Pierce and the board reentered the auditorium.
“It’s very, very difficult to choose because these four groups have worked so very hard,” Pierce said. “We talked about it right before we started our pitches tonight, that there is not actually a winner or a loser in this because all of these teams have worked so hard, and they will all be successful if they keep their hearts in touch. I think everyone will remember that tonight, but, of course, we have to make a decision.”
The business determined by the board as having given the best pitch of the evening was Imortalyze.
After presenting the check to Bloom, Robers and Wigger, Pierce said, “I thank the board of directors, and I thank our mentors, and our coaches, and the administration that has helped us with our program so much. I think we would all agree how proud we are of these students standing up here in the work that they’ve done.”
Kevin R. Jenkins is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-783-9667 or firstname.lastname@example.org