New Trier entrepreneurship course seeks community experts to volunteer as coaches and mentors

StartUp U 1

New Trier High School is seeking community members to help coach and mentor young entrepreneurs who are putting their business ideas to the test in a new class called StartUp U.

In the yearlong class, teams of students will create and fully develop their own product or service from concept to minimum viable product to pitch. Some ideas under development include a clothing line, an app to track airport security wait times and a consulting match site for small businesses.

Coaches come into the classroom for a short time to provide students with real-world context for a specific industry or business topic, while mentors guide them through the entire process but do not need to be a subject-area expert in the business students are developing.

"The goal is for the students to eventually pitch a business idea," said Matt Mersch, the Business Education faculty member who teaches the course. "Working with mentors and coaches will give the students multiple opportunities to discuss and present their ideas to someone outside of school in advance of a business pitch."

StartUp U creates a foundational experience for high school students who plan to study entrepreneurship and business in college, as well as those interested in bringing a business proposal to market. Students are required to collaborate and work through ambiguity by thinking creatively, solving intricate problems and being resilient in the face of failure. The curriculum combines experimentation with foundational business content, such as marketing and finance.

The course incorporates the curriculum and online resources of INCubatoredu, a nationally recognized program with hundreds of member schools in over a dozen states. The New Trier Educational Foundation has committed to raising $20,000 to secure the three-year license fee for the program. More information on their efforts can be found at www.newtrierfoundation.org/biz-ed-incubator

"I took Entrepreneurship because I wanted to expand a clothing line I already started," said junior Victor Pearlman, creator of Stay Noided clothing. "I wanted to utilize the resources that New Trier offers to help my business."
Another team is brainstorming a consulting business for small shops, which stemmed from one student's experience working at a Winnetka store that lacked a business and marketing plan. Other business ideas include a crowdsourced app to track the length of TSA wait times, a labor website for teenagers and a social media marketing company.

Coaching is typically a one-day commitment, and guidance on the lesson is provided by the teacher, who aids the coach in planning and presenting. Some coaching areas include group ideation, value proposition, customer segmentation, positioning/marketing tactics, pricing, web/app development, legal, promotion and funding requests. Coaches meet with the teacher for 15 minutes before the lesson, in-person or over the phone, and can participate in one or two classes for 40-90 minutes total.

Mentors volunteer to follow a team through the entire process with feedback and encouragement. They guide students on topics like communication, organization and teamwork and ask critical questions while providing constructive feedback. The time commitment includes meeting with the team a minimum of once every two weeks, whether in-person or via FaceTime, Skype, email or phone.

"We also feel that mentors and coaches will benefit from their relationship with the students," Mersch said. "Working with New Trier students in this Entrepreneurship course is a direct way to impact our community and our school."

Community members who are interested in volunteering can call Matt Mersch at 847-784-6333, or email him at merschm@nths.net. The class is offered during third and fourth periods at the Winnetka campus, at 10:15 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. respectively.