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BHS INCubator: From cinderblock classroom to bustling business center

Apr 27, 2017 11:54AM ● Published by Neighbors Magazines

Batavia High School recently renovated (gut­ted!) its INCubator Entrepreneurship classroom and transformed it into a real-world business incubator/office. In the newly renovated space, local business lead­ers now meet with teams of students on a regular basis to help them with their startup business ideas.

“The concept of the redesign was for students to thoughtfully leave the high school and enter into a work environment,” said Dennis Piron, INCubator Entrepreneurship course instructor, BHS math teacher, and head football and track coach. “The classroom design is patterned to give students a feeling of being in a real office or incubator.”

The renovation project took about 12 months, including planning, fundrais­ing, and construction. When students came back from winter break, most everything was in place. BPS101’s Buildings & Grounds Department worked with Batavia-based Interiors for Business on the redesign, which included fur­nishings, flat screens, carpeting, whiteboards, paint, lighting, ceiling grid, and an adjoining conference room.

All funding for the renovations came from the outside.

“We set a goal of reaching $30,000 for the renovations by finding six $5,000 donors and applying for a Ca­reer Tech Education grant,” said Brian Gamlin, BHS Divisional Coordinator and Director of INCubatoredu@BHS. “Currently, we are more than halfway there, and phase I of the remodel has been completed. Our next phase includes furniture for the conference room as well as additional soft furniture for the main classroom.”

Initial donations were made on behalf of John and Carol Winkle and Joe and Pat Novak by their children to honor their parents’ work as entrepreneurs and their support of the Batavia community. Additional donations were made by Chris and Kristin Behmer in recognition of the strength of the Batavia School District and Kristin’s 11 years of service on the BPS101 Board of Edu­cation. The Batavia Foundation for Educational Excellence shared a gift made in honor of Marilyn Robinson, author and Batavia teacher for 27 years.

“One of our goals for the space was for our students to be set up in teams of four to six with a focus on collaboration, brainstorming, and presentation preparation,” said Gamlin. “We also wanted to have the right balance of tech­nology with an environment that supported a focus on ‘learning by doing.’”

When asked about the student experience in the redesigned space, BHS junior Jack Gillerlain said, “I like how we now sit in our own pods, and each one has its own display screen. This allows our team to project presentations from a Chromebook and work on them together. I also like that we now have a conference room. If we have a pitch to do for a company, we go into that room and practice without any disturbance. We just met our mentor there last week vs. our normal spot at Panera on 

Sundays.”

BHS senior Tom Stuttle said that the new space feels very much like a real office and has made a positive impact on learning.

INCubatoredu@BHS Instructor Dennis Piron was a small business owner prior to teaching and coaching at Batavia High School. Through his network, he has been able to bring many business professionals and outside ex­periences to BHS INCubator students. This fall, students visited the business program at Northern Illinois Univer­sity and observed upperclassman giving presentations on actual businesses that they were launching. Students also visited Aurora University and practiced presenting their business ideas to students in AU’s computer science program who needed to connect with authentic projects. This experience helped both sets of students practice working in a client-type relationship.

“To me, the most important thing students will take away from the INCubator experience is that failure is a good thing,” said Piron. “The more times you fail, the more times you have to get better. The opportunity to fail in a school setting gives students excellent experience before stepping out in the real world. We don’t experi­ence failure that much anymore. In this class, you will fail. You will have tough debates. By working in teams, you’ll find out an awful lot about getting along with others and your leadership style.”

Pitch Night

Up next for BHS INCubator students is Pitch Night at 6:30pm on Wed., May 17 at the Batavia Fine Arts Cen­tre. There, teams of students will “pitch” their businesses to a panel of professional business leaders. Teams will have the opportunity to earn funding to take their busi­ness concepts to the next level in the second year of the INCubator program. Tickets for Pitch Night are free, but must be reserved at BataviaFineArtsCentre.org.

Funding for students at Pitch Night has already been raised via a successful networking event that was held at the Geneva-based Penrose Brewing Company this winter. The event raised just shy of $13,000. INCubator students played key roles in the fundraising efforts by securing event sponsorships and food donations, as well as selling tickets.

For more information about Pitch Night, including event sponsorship opportunities, visit BataviaFoundation.org.

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