A new business program that's set to start next school year at Oak Park and River Forest High School will allow students the opportunity to develop their own real-world services and products that could potentially garner thousands of dollars in funding.
INCubatoredu — a national program that provides a specialized curriculum to hundreds of member schools in over a dozen states — will provide online instruction materials, consultation on how the classroom is designed, a coaching and mentoring framework, and professional development resources for the year-long course.
"The incubator is going to teach our high school students, mainly juniors and seniors, how to start a business," said Peter Hostrawser, the founder and department chair of the OPRF School of Business.
In addition to the incubator program, the business school also provides internship opportunities and more traditional business courses, and operates OPRF's Business Club. OPRF business teacher Matthew Prebble will teach the incubator course.
Hostrawser said that he anticipates that the program will enroll between 65 and 75 students split into three sections of roughly 25 students each. Each section will be divided into groups of four to five students who will create a service or product "from idea to pitch."
Hostrawser said that students will work to develop a "minimum viable product or service" that they'll eventually turn into a startup. Part of the development process involves pitching their ideas to investors to generate seed money to grow their operations. At some INCubatoredu schools, students have garnered up to $20,000 in startup funds, he said.
In addition to financial assistance, the students also receive technical assistance from a mentor — typically an accomplished businessperson or entrepreneur who can offer subtle consultation.
"Each student group gets a mentor who acts as an advisor to that team, but the cool part about the mentors is that they don't give the answers," Hostrawser said. "The great thing about this program is that we're teaching students how to hail forward."
District 200 school board member Matt Baron said that he was struck by the program's mentoring aspect.
"This is precisely in line with what I feel the high school could use in terms of tapping into the talent and dedication and skill-set of the wider community," said Baron, who owns a marketing and public relations firm in Oak Park. "This was already going to happen, so I can't take credit but when I found out about it from Peter, I said, 'Gosh, this is perfect.'"
Baron said he thinks of the new incubator program as being in the mold of 1871 — the technology and entrepreneurship center located in Chicago's Merchandise Mart. Even the classroom will be redesigned so that it resembles the flexible, high-tech workspace of a Silicon Valley or Loop startup, Baron noted.
"I'm confident that this will be a really cool, fun, energizing place to inspire creativity, teamwork and risk-taking," Baron said.