Students at Vestavia Hills High School will have an opportunity not only to develop their own business ideas but also to present them to possible investors to earn seed funding thanks to a new partnership with INCubatoredu.

INCubatoredu provides curriculum and training to students for a year, helping them create a business model, learn how to improve it and then ultimately pitch it to local investors who may or may not provide some seed funding, said Margarita Geleske with the organization.

Geleske said the business ideas have to solve a problem and that the program is “hands-on” because students learn how to do business by creating their own. She said one student in another school system found that when he got to the experimental phase of his business after graduating, he knew what he needed to do as a result of the program.

Antonio Cooper, director of curriculum and instruction for Vestavia Hills City Schools, said the move is part of the school’s efforts to improve career and technical education and make sure students had “viable” curriculum that would prepare students for the real world. Working with INCubatoredu was like a “match made in heaven,” he said.

The program not only allows students to pitch their business ideas to investors; it also allows business leaders in the community to partner with them and mentor them along the way.

“We want them [our students] to be as well-rounded as possible,” Cooper said.

That goal becomes much more easily achievable with the help of real-world professionals, Cooper said.

Because this is the school’s first year with the program, Cooper said teachers and students would be “feeling our way through it together.”

Various kinds of businesses have been started through the program, Geleske said. One is a service which sought to train senior citizens how to use technology. The student worked to develop the idea, got some initial funding and has continued to grow, recruiting teenagers to spend time getting to know senior adults and helping them with their technological needs. The business has since received contracts to go into several nursing homes to help their residents, Geleske said.

Another business created a product designed to increase safety in the weight room or gym. The developer took bands for slap watches and wrapped them in nylon, which allowed them to serve as a better option than easily-broken butterfly clips to hold large amounts of weight on equipment, Geleske said. The product was successfully pitched to Mark Cuban on the “Shark Tank” TV show.

Geleske said while many students will not leave high school with a business under their belts and may not secure the funding they seek, they will have learned skills that can help them no matter where they go.

“They learn business has to come from real issues,” Geleske said.

Students will be taught marketing basics, legal basics and life skills, including creative problem solving and public speaking. They will have to speak each day in class.

For more information about the program, visit unchartedlearning.org.

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