By: Eva Mandelbaum
The overall diversity of White Plains High School (WPHS) is no secret, but one less immediately apparent yet crucial aspect of this diversity is the versatility of classes that allow for exploring interests. One of these passion-based classes is INCubatoredu Entrepreneurship, which centers around what goes into creating a business.
Dr. Hand, the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, and Mr. Varuolo, the head of the Business and Technology Department, worked together to bring this national program created by Uncharted Learning (a company that creates entrepreneurship course curriculums) to White Plains last year.
Ms. Leblanc, the teacher of the course, explained, “Eventually, there’s an idea to create more of a business track at White Plains with more Uncharted Learning courses being a part of that track that students would follow (starting in the middle school and continuing on).”
The curriculum of the Incubator class covers everything involved in starting your own business (including marketing, sales, pricing, market sizing, customer interviews, and legal, trade-marked patents). While adult entrepreneurs spend hours a day for many years working on a business, this course gives students a “snapshot into that life,” according to Ms. LeBlanc.
Students work in groups (called “start-up teams” or “companies”) with three to four of their peers to come up with a product or service that could solve a problem they see in the world around them (with the support of both Ms. LeBlanc and a dedicated adult mentor with knowledge in the field of their chosen product). Modeled after the TV show “Shark Tank,” there is a mid-year pitch event and a final pitch at the end of the year which allows students to present their idea to a board of advisors (which includes local business owners and entrepreneurs) who then vote for the team with the best potential to become a successful business.
Pitch events are not the only exciting opportunities this class provides students with. “Just a few weeks ago we attended the Business Council of Westchester Business Showcase and that was really cool,” Ms. LeBlanc said. “That was a great opportunity for students to connect with some local business owners and entrepreneurs and kind of see what else is out there and what opportunities potentially await them in the future. That was really a great opportunity.”
Luke Psaras, a Senior in the course who plans to pursue entrepreneurship, finance, and business in the future, was excited to dive into the field by attending the showcase. He said, “It was an opportunity where I got to meet people. I got a lot of business cards and emails so I can reach out to them. They offer internships to high schoolers, so I’ve been looking into those. This class gives a lot of opportunities that no other class here gives.”
Not only was this event a great networking opportunity, but in collaboration with the Business Council of Westchester, the Westchester Innovation Network gifted WPHS Incubator students a $2500 grant to go towards their business development over the course of this school year. Ms. LeBlanc expressed her gratitude for this grant: “It was really an awesome event to attend and then a great gift to receive that grant,” she said.
As someone who spent a decade working in digital marketing before becoming a teacher, Ms. LeBlanc’s background makes her the perfect fit for this class, and there is no doubt that she adores teaching it. “I love making connections with all of my students, but in Incubator, it’s just such a different environment,” she said. “I feel like I get to see a different side of students and I get to build a different type of relationship with them. So that part for me is really fun and of course, I love hearing all the brilliant business ideas they come up with because the creativity is just...wonderful.”
This sense of enjoyment is certainly shared by her students. Senior Luke Brooks said, “It’s a very free class. We have a lot of freedom in this class. It’s very fun, it’s a good environment, [and] Madame LeBlanc’s a great teacher.” Seniors Gabriel Contreras and Matthew Meyer share this sentiment. Contreras explained, “It’s really teaching us how to work as a team,” and Meyer said, “This class is a fun alternative to our normal classes. It gives us an outlet to be creative.”
Junior Nicholas Cordova views the class as “a great environment to...come together to share your ideas and thoughts.” He added, “We’re also going to use these social skills in a workplace that we’re all going to be in, and this is a great start...to feel comfortable with other people.”
“The great thing about Incubator is yes, it’s about entrepreneurship, yes, it’s about business, and it’s about developing a product or service, [but] it’s more about the soft skills that the students are gaining through this process: things like public speaking, presenting, [and] interview skills. They’re learning skills that they’re going to use in any field that they go into in the future,” Ms. LeBlanc explained. “It is totally different from any other class that anybody’s ever taken here at WPHS. And I say that confidently, after talking to the students, after seeing their reactions, after getting their feedback, it’s so different and I think the skills that the students are learning in the class are really important.”