By JULIA BYCHOWSKI, Vandegrift Voice
Crisp suits brush past jeans and backpacks as a gaggle of students make their way to the spacious couch-filled room. The word INCubator lines the walls in bold, orange letters, and a projector filled with the unique pitches of students covers the main wall. Babysitting is out, and this is the newest age of student businesses.
Rounding out its fifth year at Vandegrift, the Entrepreneurship/INCubator program has grown to become one of the most popular course requests among students. Taught by teachers Erin Mathis and Erin Lucas, the course allows students to spearhead the creation of their own unique businesses, whilst incorporating vital knowledge of business management and marketing research.
“No two days are the same. We’re trying to tackle a different problem every day in class. And it’s not all work. It’s fun too, and it’s something I really enjoy,” said senior Christian Long. “Just being able to be in an environment where there’s other people that are pursuing similar goals, but at the same time doing something totally different, I think that’s super powerful.”
Over 100 students are currently enrolled in the INCubator class, and thus the program has seen a multitude of diverse people, businesses and ideas on the rise. Everything from stain removal products, to portable basketball hoops, to caffeinated gummies and universal drink koozies.
“This is a course that would be incredible for people who are internally driven, and have aspirations for either owning a company or working high up in a company and kind of calling the shots,” Long said. “Even if you’re not looking to [create] own your own company, it’s just incredible to know all the different aspects of a successful business. [It] can help you be a lot more successful in whatever you choose to do, but it’s definitely geared towards business-minded people.”
Juniors starting out with INCubator begin the entrepreneurship experience right away, with meeting their teams and brainstorming ideas for their pitch. At the end of the year, those teams will pitch their ideas and, hopefully, be awarded funding to proceed onto the next year of ACCelerator in which they are able to truly launch their businesses with the addition of an LLC bank account.
“It’s very creative. You’re allowed to do it in the way you want to there’s no kind of curriculum,” Senior Dhruv Vohra said. “I would say it’s more free flowing, you’re allowed to come up with your own ideas, [and] do things in your own way. And so that really interested me.”
Although students receive immense freedom in the course, each team is assigned a mentor, and is expected to work with them for about an hour per week. Each year, the INCubator program relies on about 90 of these mentors, all of whom volunteer to help out the class. Additionally, 60-70% of the class is instructed by industry professionals, allowing students to learn about everything from finance to law to marketing and sales.
“It’s a great experience, we learn how to pitch, we learn how to prepare [and] how to interact,” Long continues. “And we learn what investors are looking for in a startup company.”
In addition to the mentors and industry professionals, students in INCubator also receive the opportunity to pitch their business to a panel of judges who, generally, have previous experience running or working a business. For example, students participate in a pitch competition run by SXSW, as well as one run by Uncharted Learning.
“We’ve kind of learned that it’s more about taking what you’ve learned here and continuing that,” teacher Erin Mathis said. “So we’re starting to see a lot of our former students really launch some successful businesses, and it’s going to keep growing as it keeps going.”
Though not all seniors participating in the program decide to continue their business beyond the classroom, some choose to pursue their creations after high-school. For example, Long, along with his team, plans to continue their koozie company ‘Slap-Daddy’ in order to breach the gap in an unreached market.
“This is a course that would be incredible for people who are internally driven, and have aspirations for either owning a company or working high up in a company and kind of calling the shots,” Long said. “Even if you’re not looking to [create] own your own company, it’s just incredible to know all the different aspects of a successful business.”
Between the mentors, industry professionals and general curriculum, INCubator students have endless opportunities to not only get their pitch and business out to the public, but also make money and connections in the professional world.
“I love that they have freedom to come up with anything. Whatever they’re passionate about, they can do,” Mathis said. “You have complete control on what you’re doing as long as you know the market wants it.”
Julia Bychowski is a Vandegrift sophomore who enjoys writing, listening to true crime podcasts, hanging out with friends, and reading trashy fantasy books. She is also a member of Model UN, and plays the cello.