For about two hours each day, Heather Sayre's room at Grove City High School is an incubator and a classroom.
Seniors participating in the second year of her Innovation and Entrepreneurship course are working together in teams to hatch business concepts they will pitch next month to area business professionals and experts serving as a board of advisers.
"It's an initial prototype of their product, a Minimum Viable Product and this first pitch will be a test of whether their product idea is worth pursuing, whether there might potentially be a market for it," said Sayre, a business teacher at the school.
After presenting their MVP pitches on Thursday, Feb. 6, the student teams will spend the remainder of the semester further developing their product, finalizing the financing needed to launch it and creating a plan to market their business, she said.
They will offer a final pitch at the end of the year to demonstrate the viability of their product, Sayre said.
Like real entrepreneurs, the success of their final pitch will determine whether their product would even have a chance to enter the marketplace, she said.
The various units of the senior-year class review the aspects of entrepreneurship the students put into practice in their product-development project, Sayre said.
The Innovation and Entrepreneurship course is a two-year program offered at each of South-Western's four high schools, which also include Central Crossing, Franklin Heights and Westland.
During their junior year, students learn the fundamentals of small-business operations, study how businesses build relationships with customers and run a T-shirt business within the classroom.
"The T-shirt business gives them a real-world experience of running a business and that helps prepare them for senior year" when they create and manage a business from idea to model to final product, Sayre said.
"Senior year is when the entrepreneurship part of the course takes place," she said. "They are exploring all aspects of developing a business, including the marketing and financial side of things."
Students are encouraged to create a business idea that would offer a product solving a problem or providing a needed service, Sayre said.
The course has adapted the INCubatoredu, a high school entrepreneurship program founded by Illinois-based Uncharted Learning NFP, she said.
The program's curriculum places an emphasis on real-world learning
The complete two-year program will shift next year to the South-Western Career Academy while students at the traditional high schools will be able to take the IncubatorEdu portion of the class at their home school, Sayre said.
At Grove City High School, 15 seniors are participating in the second year of the course, Sayre said.
They have formed four teams, each one developing a business concept.
Braden Smith's team is developing a product called Xtrashades.
"They are sunglasses that come with extra lenses you can easily use to replace lenses when they get damaged," Smith said. "I wear sunglasses a lot and get scratches on the lenses all the time. I see the scratch and I just can't wear them anymore."
Xtrashades will be designed for people on the go, he said.
Smith said he is planning to study business in college, and this course is giving him a head start on that college and career path.
"What we're learning this year is building on what we were learning during junior year," Smith said.
Madison Wright said she decided to take the course even though "I'm not really that interested in business.
"I do like making presentations and selling and I thought this would be a chance to work on those type of skills," Wright said.
She said she plans to attend Ashland University and major in early childhood education.
"I think what we're learning in this class are skills we'll be able to apply to everyday life and any career you go into," Wright said.
Wright's team is developing a business call Informajor.
"It's like 'information' except it's 'jor' instead of 'tion,'" she said.
The pun is intentional and descriptive because Informajor is an online service providing information and a survey designed to help students who are preparing to go to college but haven't determined what they want to study, Wright said.
"Some students go to college and they're like me, they know what they want to major and minor in," she said. "But a lot of students still don't know what kind of career they want and they can waste time taking classes that ultimately don't help them."
The product Mary Gilbert's team is developing also is designed to help give people direction.
My Parking Partner is an app that displays accurate, up-to-the minute information about available parking spaces in downtown Columbus, Gilbert said.
"I go downtown a lot for college classes I'm taking and I probably spend five minutes each day just trying to find a parking space," she said. "It drives me crazy. It adds a lot of stress to your day, especially if you're pressed for time."
The plan for My Parking Partner is that customers will be able to type in a destination on the app and see open parking spaces displayed, Gilbert said. They would be able to reserve a space from within the app which will then mark the space as no longer being available within the app.
"When we first came up with the idea we looked and couldn't find any service or app that actually provided information about specific parking spaces," she said.
Both Gilbert and Wright said they have been learning how much detail is involved in developing a product.
"It's not just coming up with an idea and putting it out there," Wright said. "There's so much planning and market research you have to do to make sure there's a customer base for your product."
The financing needed to research, promote and develop a product "is a lot more than I realized," Gilbert said.
"Entrepreneurship is hard," she said.