WESTBROOK — It wasn’t ABC’s Shark Tank, but students got a chance this week to pitch their business ideas before a panel of business professionals as part of Westbrook Regional Vocation Center’s INCubatoredu entrepreneurship program.
Westbrook seniors Sebastian Johns, Gabe Larson and Alek Opacic took the top prize for their idea to reduce the amount of waste produced in the high school cafeteria.
Had they sought funding to continue developing their idea, the group would have received $3,500 from Unum and the Maine Technology Initiative along with a year’s subscription to Branding Compass, a Portland-based branding company. Team members decided not to pursue their idea further, however, opting instead to focus on their upcoming college careers. Instead of the funding, they took home baskets with gift cards to Mr. Bagel, The Daily Grind, Aroma Joe’s, Starbucks and Dairy Queen.
“It was amazing,” WRVC business program instructor Brenda Dolloff said of the competition, which was held at Unum. “They did a great job and the judges were impressed with how they did compared to their mid-year pitches.”
The program, the first of its kind in the state, began this school year as a way to give students experience creating and marketing a business from the ground up. It is offered in partnership with Uncharted Learning, an Illinois-based non-profit that develops business and entrepreneur education for K-12 students and it’s funded through grants and donations.
Johns said his business My Lunch, My Way is aimed at reducing the amount of food students throw away by allowing them to choose menu options several weeks in advance using an online app.
“So students get what they want, which will reduce waste,” Larson said.
More than half of the students they surveyed felt their opinions about the cafeteria options would improve through My Lunch, My Choice, Johns said.
Johns is heading to College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, to study finance and statistics. Larson will attend University of Maine at Farmington to study actuary mathematics, and Opacic is going to the University of Maine Orono to major in computer science.
Mya Nichols, a senior at Bonny Eagle High School, and Kaylee Crawford, a senior at Westbrook High School, took second place. They designed a backpack with thicker straps that distribute weight. The backpack, Nichols and Crawford told the judges, would be safer and more comfortable for students and reduce shoulder and back pain.
Andrew Hatch, a Westbrook senior, and Elizabeth Ryder, a senior at Bonny Eagle, teamed up to find a better way to recharge school laptops by offering a portable device that could charge six computers at once.
Ryder, who will study hospitality management at Southern Maine Community College next year, said their device is more convenient than others.
“Our laptops die during the school day if we don’t charge them at home,” Ryder said.
Hatch, who will be going to the University of Southern Maine for computer science in the fall, said both students and staff they connected with felt it was a good idea.
Vincent Wheeler, a senior at Gorham High School, and Cameron Holloway, a senior at Westbrook High School, joined forces to start a customizable clothing offering.
Students have been working on developing their products since the beginning of the school year when they were asked by Dolloff to create a product or service that would solve a problem they face. Along the way the nine students in the class were mentored by representatives of Maine Centers for Entrepreneurs, Camden National Bank, Green Clean Main and UNUM.
Students also studied supply and demand, distribution models, pricing strategies, financial statements, marketing plans, revenue forecasting, inventory and employee growth, Dolloff said.
“The material they are learning along the way is as important as if the product they develop gets funded,” she said.
Dolloff said it was clear during her students’ final pitches that they “really showed progress and demonstrated how much they learned throughout the year.”
Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9206 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mkelleynews
Sebastian Johns, Alek Opacic and Sebastian Johns practice their business pitch a week and a half before winning a contest in front of local business professionals May 13.
Westbrook Regional Vocation Center teacher Brenda Dolloff, left, has led her students Elizabeth Ryder, Kaylee Crawford, Gabe Larsen, Andrew Hatch, Alek Opacic, Sebastian Johns, Mya Nichols, Cameron Holloway and Vincent Wheeler, through a year-long entrepreneur class.