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Alamo Heights HS Incubator course teaches how to start, fund and manage a company

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Mike Fulton (right), principal/president at Fulton Property Group, coaches Alamo Heights High School students (from left) Wendall Snow, Bergen Bonar, Chris Raney (standing) and Hayes Ulm as part of a Heights Business Incubator class. Courtesy photo/AHISD

ALAMO HEIGHTS — Alamo Heights High School junior Paige Davis is learning how to build a business from scratch.

She’s in the right place.

Davis and 135 fellow juniors and seniors are enrolled in what educators say is the first local public high school business incubator, where students are creating and developing their own service or product.

“I thought it would be easy at first, but there’re a lot more steps than I thought,” Davis said.

Julie Hill, an iHeartMedia executive, coaches Alamo Heights High School students (clockwise from top) Sarah McFarland, Colby Williams, Ella Behnke and Seth Ellis as part of a Heights Business Incubator class. Courtesy photo/AHISD

The Heights Business Incubator, which launched at the start of the 2018-2019 school year, encourages and teaches young, aspiring entrepreneurs to get acquainted with basic business concepts and apply them.

Teachers Patrice Bartlett and Cathy Klumpp are guiding the students through the yearlong elective course, which officially follows the INCubatoredu.

It’s a nationwide program begun by Unchartered Learning, an Illinois-based nonprofit now in more than 100 U.S. and Mexican schools.

The local students, split into 30 teams, are acquiring foundational business concepts.

“This could be so beneficial in the future for me because we learn great techniques for the basic layout of a company,” junior Peterson Cooper said. “We learn how to turn our ideas into a profitable solution and our friends into helpful co-workers. This class is such an amazing experience already and gives us a head start into adulthood.”

This semester, principles from the lean startup movement — a methodology to develop businesses — will help students prepare for a Minimum Viable Product presentation, to secure funding to test their product.

The academic year ends with a “pitch week,” where the teams appear before actual investors to compete for seed funding. From there, some students could fully realize their concept.

Community members helped to form a board to advise the incubator program. Forty local business leaders have been volunteering as mentors, assigned to a specific team for the entire year.

Another 30 “coaches,” or experts in their particular business field, come to the classroom to share experiences and tips.

“They bring a unique perspective and real-world experience to the classroom. We have coaches coming in to teach the financial units, marketing, legal, perfecting pitch presentations, web design, etc.,” Bartlett said.

The HBI program at AHHS has been in the works since 2017.

“We also had community members and local businesses volunteer to host some informational receptions last year to help spread the word about this new program,” Bartlett said. “Our mentors are involved in a wide variety of businesses and several are, of course, entrepreneurs.”

Several of the mentors and coaches appear in a video on the Alamo Heights Independent School District website that explains the HBI program.

Rick Cavender, vice president of Cavender Auto Family and an AHHS alumnus, appears in the video. He said the incubator is a great way to inspire students to become active in business.

“These young people that have entrepreneurial spirit, they can be involved, excited, but more than anything they can develop a passion — it’s like a fire,” Cavender said.

Randy Harig, president and chief executive officer of VelocityTX, visited the HBI students in September to coach them on the art of “the elevator pitch.”

Based near Pearl, VelocityTX’s executive team is comprised of entrepreneurs who help small and medium-sized businesses through their start-up processes.

Harig was excited about the school incubator, and immediately offered to volunteer.

“It’s exactly what we do at Velocity as an incubator,” Harig said. “Having kids exposed to this, at this level, gives them a head start.”

The school incubator provides the students with a chance to use knowledge gleaned from other classes.

“When I was in school, I wondered, ‘When am I going use algebra?’” Harig said. “Thing is, we all use algebra every day.”

The incubator also enables the students to learn from failure by adjusting their business idea or plan.

“We certainly preach to them to fail and fail early,” Harig said. “It’s not a failure if it doesn’t work. It’s a failure if you don’t try to do something else.”

The students are soaking up what they learn.

“I have met so many knowledgeable people from the business community,” said Carlos Muniz, a senior. “They have helped me further my level of thinking about my incubator project.”

“I wanted to take this class because I wanted to learn more about what it is to be an entrepreneur and learn from actual business experiences,” senior Amanda Uribe said. “So far, I have learned that you have to pivot to survive. You have be open to ideas outside of your norms and be willing to fail.”

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