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Crystal Lake

Prairie Ridge High School entrepreneurs prepare their pitches for business incubator course

CRYSTAL LAKE – You could almost hear the ka-chinking of money and the clicking of online shoppers whispering through the business incubator lab of Prairie Ridge High School on Thursday afternoon.

The school’s first INCubator Edu course, aimed at teaching students entrepreneurship by having them team up to fully develop their own product or service, is wrapping up for the school year. Five of the 10 student groups will be chosen to pitch their business proposal to the public, and perhaps potential investors.

But students Joey Pinsky, David Vogt and Sam Price already are making money through their online new and slightly used sporting equipment business, Equipment Lodge. The site, at www.equipmentlodge.com, already had made some sales, and the three were huddled in a side conference room with business mentor Mike Domek to prepare both an email blast and a Google Ads campaign to let people know.

“We’re trying to be like a Play It Again Sports, but a little cheaper and a little higher quality,” Pinsky said.

The sports equipment franchise doesn’t sell goods online – a fact that the three entrepreneurs discovered and want to exploit.

For the team of Emmanuel Ebirim, Bryce Thelander and Sydney Onoyan, tapping into the market of their fellow college-bound students – especially those who want to have a layer between their feet and communal college showers – is lucrative.

Dubbed Foot Fresh, the trio developed a portable shower mat small enough to fit in any shower stall that can be deployed and removed without having to touch the surface that makes contact with the tile. Their market research concluded that students don’t relish wearing flip-flops to walk into “dirty and gross” shower floors, said Ebirim, who will be attending Washington University in St. Louis this fall.

“I think we have a strong product and such a big market. You can sell it at any college, really,” he said.

The class, taught by business teacher Bryan Peckhart, gave students the school year to create a product or service and teach them about product planning, finances, legal issues, sales and marketing. Each team is paired with a mentor who has made it in business to help them along. The class meets in a high-tech and professional-looking 1,350-square-foot lab opened up at the start of the school year through donations from Sage Products and The Domek Group.

Both Peckhart and Department Chair Kevin Koeppen said that the enthusiasm and ingenuity of the students has been something to behold.

Peckhart walked the rounds and talked to the groups as they prepared to make their pitches later this week to a panel of business mentors, akin to the TV show “Shark Tank,” which will select five of them to advance to a community “pitch night” May 22 – which is open to the public – and maybe, just maybe, someone willing to invest.

“They get the opportunity to present to a packed house,” Peckhart said.

More importantly, mentor J.D. Willis said, the students get a feel for the hard work required to be an entrepreneur. Willis, who owns the Chick-Fil-A in Crystal Lake, mentors the Foot Fresh team.

“I think they learn how difficult it is, and that you just have to stick with it. Perspiration is more important than inspiration,” Willis said.

Domek, who founded TicketsNow in 1999 and sold it about a decade later to Ticketmaster for $265 million, said he would like to get a business incubator class set up in every high school in McHenry County. He also mentors the program at Woodstock High School. Marian Central Catholic High School is starting one in the fall.

“Every entrepreneur that I know who has been a part of this program say that they wished they had access to it when they were starting out,” Domek said.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Business incubator “pitch night”

WHEN: 5:30 p.m. showcase, 6:30 p.m. formal pitches May 22

WHERE: Prairie Ridge High School auditorium

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