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INCubator program offers students business experience

Farmington High School this year began an innovative business program this year to help juniors and seniors start their own businesses.

Business instructor Christy Pierce launched the INCubatoredu curriculum with 12 students.

“I taught entrepreneurship where we did business plans, the big 30-40 page documents,” she said. “That’s beginning to be more a thing of the past.

"That was all fictitious and this is real. INCubatoredu is a real program based out of Chicago where students are creating actual, real businesses in hopes of pitching — there will be two formal pitches — to a board of directors in hopes of getting the seed money to take this business further.”

In this program, the incubator program requires community involvement through coaches, mentors and a board of directors. Pierce said there's a "mentor's side" of the program.

The mentors were made up of local business leaders who rotated to each group of four and listened to a presentation of each group’s business idea. The mentors asked questions about the idea and gave advice on what they thought should and shouldn’t be done. “You can do a lot of mentoring through email,” she said, adding she prefers mentors "just sit with the students and give them feedback that you have, answer any questions you might have, and just kind of direct them.”

Earlier this semester, after hearing the presentations, forms were available for any of the attendees to fill out if they were interested in mentoring one of the groups.

The school was also looking for local business leaders to serve as coaches. The coaches co-teach a lesson for the whole class on their area of expertise, such as accounting.

In January, the student groups will make their first formal pitch to the board of directors and then make their final pitch in May.

Once the students complete the course and graduate from high school, they are given the option of continuing the business. Neither the Farmington School District, the high school or INCubatoredu will have a legal or financial interest in the company.

Further explaining the curriculum, Pierce said, “INCubatoredu is its own program. We have purchased the curriculum to teach it. We cannot do this without donations as well. The Farmington district will back us as much as they can with funding. But as far as funding, we definitely need community members to be involved, as well, if they want to make a donation. Any donation would only be put into Farmington High School’s incubator program.”

Oct. 6 was incubator’s mentor match-up day. The attendees were people who had already said they would potentially serve as a mentor. Pierce said the next step was to see if a mentor signed up with each group. Once that was established, the mentor would come in and talk specifically to their group and set up a plan.

“My units follow very strict guidelines on how the business is created,” she said. “It’s not just up to the mentor. I’m going to be directing them, they are just giving them advice. We will continue with our curriculum and the mentor will just fit in throughout the program helping.”

In January the program will have the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Pierce explained this is when the students will give a bigger, broader pitch than the October presentations, but they will still not be the final pitches.

“When we do our final pitches in May, they can see how much they have put into it and progressed,” she said. “I think that will show the board how much passion they have in it by how much work they’ve put into it and a better chance of getting the money.”

According to Pierce, there's a chance a business could move on to bigger and better things with INCubatoredu.

“Once we compete against each other at a local level, I will take whatever business wins here and I will send it to INCubatoredu at the national level,” she said. “They will view all the pitches and if they feel our idea is one of the best, they will do a national summit that someone will win. INCubatoredu will give a scholarship to the company, as well. If you get to this national level where INCubatoredu is behind you, so many of those companies are still up and running. The higher you get, the higher the success.”

The first INCubatoredu program was started in 2013. A total of 27,912 student entrepreneurs have developed businesses in 27 states. Farmington’s program is currently the only one in Missouri. Although the program is only offered through the Farmington School District, Pierce said volunteers from other towns are welcome to participate.

“If they are willing to help at Farmington, absolutely,” she said. “There were two gentlemen that owned businesses in Park Hills. They were willing to come in and help.”

Pierce will continue to look for business people to help.

“The more people involved, that’s more advice, different insights for the students," she said. "I don’t want simply people that own small businesses or people that just own corporations. I want people that are very diverse. So far three coaches have come in to help, and so far they have given the best advice to all of the groups. Advice that I haven’t thought of yet. It helps when students hear from someone else besides their teacher.”

Pierce has worked extensively with Candy Hente, executive director of the Farmington Regional Chamber of Commerce, whom she calls her “community champion.”

“She has helped immensely with getting the right people for the right units,” Pierce said.

Business leaders willing to volunteer for the program are asked to contact Christy Pierce at cpierce@farmington.k12.mo.us, call Farmington High School and leave a message, or contact Candy Hente at 573-756-3615 or by email at chamber@farmingtonregionalchamber.com.

Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at mmarberry@farmingtonpressonline.com

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