Hononegah Incubator Program training tomorrow’s entrepreneurs


At a recent Hononegah Incubator class presentation, members of the MVP Board of Directors listen as students pitch their new business plans and financial needs. Board members asked questions and offered suggestions. L-R Chuck Gilbert - business communications member and mentor, Nate Bolin - German American State Bank, Matt Lynch - Members Alliance Credit Union, Michelle Matthys - SENB Bank. Not present- Deb Griffith from First National Bank and Trust.

It’s been over seven years since Hononegah Community High School Career and Tech Education Coordinator Jason Brunke, Administrator Chad Dougherty and then-Superintendent Lyn Gibson took a trip to Barrington, Illinois to learn about the Incubator Program, a new business entrepreneurial program developed and designed by teachers at Barrington High School.

The group was very impressed with what they heard. They returned to Hononegah ready to implement the program into the school’s business and career curriculum.

Since that time, the program, now called INCubatoredu, has been key in teaching students how to create business plans, learn about financing a business and marketing their product.

Through the program, sophomore through senior students at Hononegah are getting some real-life experience and guidance from an MVP (new product development) board of directors made up of seasoned volunteers from the local financial and business world who evaluate, provide feedback on the presentations, and make final decisions on the allocation of money so that the students can move forward in testing their ideas. MVP stands for "minimum viable product."

Making up the Board of Directors are Nate Bolin - German American State Bank, Michelle Matthys - SENB Bank, Matt Lynch - Members Alliance Credit Union, Deb Griffith- First National Bank and Trust, as well as Chuck Gilbert and Bob Geddeis, who are business professionals in the area.

Throughout the school year, local business people, acting as mentors and coaches, come into the classroom to work with student groups offering ideas and recommendations. Students learn communication skills and how to approach people in a professional way,” Brunke said. “The Incubator program is a different way of looking at education.”

The concept is similar to the television show Shark Tank: students create business models based on ideas and/or products. They pitch their ideas to the board of directors and ask for assistance, recommendations and financial support. If the board likes what they hear, they can provide matching funding of 50% of the approved cost of promoting the business and help with purchase of supplies. Funds are provided by businesses in the community.

The program is a great learning experience whether or not the students continue pursuing their plans after graduating.

During our recent visit to the classroom, Brunke introduced several groups of students who were ready to pitch their start-up business ideas to the board.

Senior Batan Estrada already owns his own photography business, Photo Launch, and is making money at it. He wants to expand his business by building a website and developing curriculum-based learning and audio creations.

A few years ago, Hononegah students Jalen Ponder, Maggie Yoho and Jordan Diehl pitched Evendtor, a start-up business that brokers events between food truck vendors and organizations. The board was impressed with their presentation at Pitch Night.

A short time later, they were invited to compete at the national level, where they succeeded in getting funding to continue the business.

Evendtor is still in business. Ponder and Yoho have added another business as well. In partnership with Beloit International Film Festival, they operate The Drive 815, a summer drive-in movie business in Rockton. That business also incorporates food trucks on the premises.

In May, students will have the opportunity to pitch their start-up business at Pitch Night where they will present statistics on all the aspects of opening their own business. And they will request specific financial assistance to help make their new businesses a reality. Pitch Night is open to the public.

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