Inside Dana Jones’ classroom at Vista Ridge High School, teenagers swivel on chairs as they take part in an empathy exercise and talk about prospective consumers as part of the Vista Ridge INCubatoredu program.
INCubatoredu started at Vista Ridge during the 2017-18 school year and is currently in its first year at Vandegrift High School. The program aims to bring real world concepts to the classroom by inviting local entrepreneurs to teach business startup skills in Leander ISD schools and mentor the students in the program.
“We have six student teams that formed LLCs this summer and they’re opening bank accounts in their company name,” Jones said. “It feels so good to have a student that when they get out of college and they want to do a startup, they already know how to file an LLC; they already have a bank account.”
Students form teams and create business models for their products or mobile apps during the course of the school year. Each team is matched with a mentor and the teams present their business models in May to mentor volunteers in a competition similar to the television show “Shark Tank.”
“I think if they can find something that they’re passionate about and their passion drives their learning, then they are going to learn on a much different level,” Jones said. “It’s going to mean a lot more to them and they’re going to be a lot more motivated.”
The program follows curriculum from some national business schools, and students gain insights from professionals such as patent lawyers, marketing professionals or chief financial officers from local businesses.
Jones said community involvement, whether by mentoring, volunteering or donating, is an important factor in helping the fledging program grow.
“That’s everything to this program,” Jones said. “It’s not the room that makes the difference. It’s these volunteers that come in and share their expertise and leadership.”
Jones said the program is open to juniors and if teams successfully complete the INCubatoredu program, they will advance to the ACCELeratoredu, the second year of the program.
But for Vista Ridge teacher Stephan George, preparing INCubators begins a few years earlier. He teaches a freshman-level class that helps prepare students for the INCubatoredu program.
“Teaching the kids as freshmen is a good opportunity to start providing the program to them,” he said. “The idea is to get them excited about the business world and growing up into it.”
More importantly, Jones said the program teaches resolve, a trait that is needed in life outside the classroom.
“When they have a block in the road, an entrepreneur has to think how to get over it or around it,” Jones said. “They’ll come to us and say ‘Oh, there’s somebody already doing it.’ We’ll say, ‘How are you going to be a better achiever? You convince people why to buy your product instead of a competitor’s.’”
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