Volunteers Are Critical To Our Success
When Lake Forest High School first offered its Business Incubator Honors class in the fall of 2014, it was one of only five or six high schools delivering the INCubatoredu curriculum to students interested in entrepreneurship. Today, INCubatoredu programs are offered at more than 300 high schools across the United States and in Australia and Spain. Lake Forest’s program stands out, in part because of its extensive volunteer network of local entrepreneurial supporters that have a wealth of knowledge and a willingness to share it.

At LFHS, the Business Incubator provides students the opportunity to learn all aspects of business by creating and developing their own authentic businesses and products/services over the course of their junior year. Led by teachers Joe Pulio and Phil LaScala, the students spend the first semester learning ideation and problem-solution identification, and the second semester preparing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) presentation to secure funding to test their products/services and further develop their business ideas. The course culminates in a Pitch Night (think Shark Tank) where three to four teams compete for funding to turn their business plans into reality. Students whose businesses receive funding take Business Accelerator Honors senior year and run their businesses and work toward launching their products/services.

The Lake Forest High School Foundation partnered with the high school to launch the Business Incubator and has been championing it ever since. From purchasing the curriculum and outfitting the Incubator Lab to initial MVP funding and Pitch Night financial awards, the foundation has invested more than $150,000 in the Business Incubator. The foundation is also the bridge between the school and the community and spearheads the effort to recruit and train volunteers.

More than 40 volunteers serve as program leaders, coaches, mentors, and judges in LFHS’ Business Incubator.

“What the students are learning is rather extensive,” said Pulio. “The curriculum mirrors the same process of business incubators in the ‘real world,’ and follows the ‘lean start-up’ concept of entrepreneurship that focuses on hypotheses-driven testing and interviewing, pivoting and minimal viable product development. We wouldn’t be able to do all of this without our volunteers.”
Expert Coaches Help Deliver the Curriculum
Throughout the school year the Business Incubator coaches reinforce certain units in the curriculum. “Our coaches are experts in their fields. They share their knowledge on topics from ideation, market segmentation and marketing to pricing, valuation, and law,” said LFHS Foundation Vice Chair Peter Clemens, a retired healthcare executive who helps manage the Business Incubator program. “The coaches present the material and actively engage the students in each topic. They are learning more from being in this class than many business professionals do.”

Sparkitivity founder and creativity and innovation expert, Kathryn Haydon is a first-year coach who answered a Facebook post looking for more incubator volunteers. She recently moved back to the area and wanted to get involved in the local community. Haydon’s background and expertise made her a perfect fit for coaching the ideation unit.

“Ideation training helps students push past the obvious, and the strategies we use guide them to further clarify their goals,” said Haydon. “We worked to draw out the students’ highest levels of thinking and challenged them to use robust tools to think deeply, problem-solve, vet ideas and push toward original solutions instead of defaulting to the first idea a team agreed on.”

“Being in the school and working with the students reaffirmed how universally applicable this work is—from students in high schools to employees of Fortune 500 companies. The opportunity for LFHS students to have these types of experiences at their age is so valuable.” ~ Kathryn Haydon
Dedicated Mentors Make Time Every Week

The Business Incubator teams are formed at the beginning of the school year after the students take a BOSI (builder, opportunist, specialist, innovator) entrepreneurial DNA personality test. Then teams and mentors have a meet-and-greet (think speed dating) and are matched by Pulio and LaScala.

“Our mentors are highly dedicated to the program. Because they come into the incubator every week—all school year long—to work with their teams, they are able to develop strong relationships with the students,” said LaScala.

“The mentors teach the students how to live in a growth mind-set. Entrepreneurship can be tough. If something is not working and a team keeps running into a wall, the mentors are able to provide feedback and ideas that helps them pivot and make it work.” ~ Phil LaScala

Shawn Folkes, a healthcare marketing consultant, has been a mentor in LFHS’ incubator for three years. Folkes said he became involved after he stopped working full time because he was looking for ways to help the next generation of business students prepare for college classes and develop as leaders.

“In the incubator, the students are learning the same skills used in the corporate world—critical thinking, project management, business fundamentals, strategic skills, team building, leadership, etc. We provide them the knowledge, environment, and framework, and then watch them develop,” said Folkes. “It gives me a strong sense of pride to watch my teams learn and grow from when they enter the program to when they leave the program. They truly become experts in their business models.”
Value-adding Judges Provide Feedback

The judging process starts in March during the MVP presentation and continues through Academic Pitch and Pitch Night in May. “MVP day is the first time the judges hear from the teams. They listen to a 10-minute presentation and then do a 10-minute Q&A with each team. It’s about 10% judging and 90% feedback at this point,” said Clemens. “The feedback that the judges provide is extremely valuable to the teams as they move forward. The teams that are successful listen to what the judges say, make the changes and then ‘wow’ the judges come Pitch Night.”

As a four-year judge, Steve Whittington, founder and CEO of Lifeworking Coworking and president of its nonprofit Community Innovation Collaborative (CIC), has witnessed the impressive growth of LFHS’s Business Incubator.

“It has become a well-crafted program that successfully leans on external forces and leverages community resources.”
~ Steve Whittington. 

After last year’s Pitch Night, Whittington’s involvement went beyond judging as he awarded a top-performing team, Brush Bestie, space in and additional mentorship through the CIC’s Small Business Incubator. “The students are sitting squarely where the entrepreneurs in the Community Innovation Collaborative are - they are creating pitch decks, talking to funders, and networking with suppliers. Being involved with the LFHS incubator and seeing the students’ passion and their transformation as entrepreneurs is truly rewarding.”
A Unique School/Community Partnership
The way the high school and the community comes together to contribute to the education and empowerment of the LFHS Business Incubator students is a partnership like no other. And because of this, Business Incubator Honors has become one of the most popular electives at LFHS. This year there are 15 teams working toward a MVP and competing for the opportunity to present at Pitch Night (only three to four teams will advance to Pitch Night). The LFHS Foundation’s role is critical to making this happen year-after-year; perhaps even more critical is the continued support of its volunteers.

Have we sparked your interest? If you’d like to become involved in the Business Incubator or are interested in learning more about volunteering, contact the LFHS Foundation at businessincubator@lfschools.net.
Thank You to ALL of the 2021-22 Volunteers
Program Leaders:
Peter Clemens
Stuart Scholly
Susan Loiacano

Jennifer Abernathy
Mark Allen
Sonia Boudreau
Craig Collister
Jennifer Gattari
Kathryn Haydon
Corey Holmer
Corbett Lamb
Peter Leech
Michael Obiala
Lisa Simone Porter
Doug Warren
Incubator Mentors:
Sonia Boudreau          
Tom Condon 
Eric Cooper      
Hal Davis 
Shawn Folkes    
Mike Obiala      
Michael Reinhardt
Peter Silvestri 
Matthew Sunderman 
Samina Waggoner
Doug Warren    
  Rob Wilder  
Incubator Co-Mentors:
Lena Benjakul
Samantha Borland
Edward Borland
Julie Currie
Michelle Gramza
William Schwartz
Jeff Yehle
Greg Strauss
Chris Hartrich   
Steven Whittington      
Kate Jackson     
Diane Fleming  
Laura Crandall

Accelerator Mentors:
Susan Milanak
Corbett Lamb
Laura George
2021 Foundation Cup Winners Going Strong
Brush Bestie Goes to SxSW EDU!
Brush Bestie, the 2021 Pitch Night Foundation Cup Winners, continue to find success this year. Recently, they were invited to attend SXSW EDU as an alternate. Organizers took note of the way they supported the other teams in attendance and gave them the opportunity to pitch their product (see video below). They will be featured on WGN News on March 31 at 10:00 a.m. They will also share more about their year at this year's Pitch Night.

Mark Your Calendar for This Year's Big Event
We are so excited to have EVERYONE back in person this year!!
We are also grateful to this year's Pitch Night Partners.
for investing in educational excellence with us!
Lake Forest High School Foundation | lfhsfoundation.org