As they stood there, in front of a row of “sharks”, Catholic High seniors were forced to think back to what they had learned this entire semester; not to survive, but to succeed.
These twenty-four students begin each day like college students, not high school seniors, in the Art of Entrepreneurial class taught by Millersville University’s Oliver Feakins. They meet everyday, not every other day like the rest of their classes and classmates, working within a challenging curriculum laid out by their college professor.
“This class is preparing me for college life, and just for the future in general, by teaching me real-life ways of how to make decisions in a business world or a personal world,” Tobey Prime explained. “This is one of my favorite classes I’ve ever taken at Catholic High.”
Feakins took a new perspective on teaching this class from what it was the previous year.
“It’s hard for me to teach something theoretical when I can teach something practical,” he admitted. “I figured that most of these students wanted to see what being an entrepreneur was like, rather than find out what the spirit of being an entrepreneur is.”
So he chartered the course of the basics, covering skills, behaviors and personality traits that are required to be an entrepreneur, with an eye on the big picture, a final project where a student’s start-up company idea would literally be pitched in front of a group of entrepreneurs, similar to the hit TV show, Shark Tank.
But the steps in between the tense atmosphere in the Catholic High Library in the first week of December and the first week of the class is where Feakins saw his students thrive.
“We eventually moved into selling, because anything in business is a sale,” Feakins continued. “Every entrepreneur is selling something, and if you’re not selling something, you’re selling your vision.”
He taught them how to interact with this new vision, and how to “sell” other students to come and work for them in this large year-end project. They practiced project management, product management and more.
“We didn’t get too deep into a lot of aspects, but more of an overview of every single part of being in business,” he added. “We kind of put it all together, and now we can apply it to a real practical concept.”
Feakins was steering his class in the direction he wanted them to go, and they were loving every bit of it.
As the calendar shifted to November, Feakins gave the students an assignment that started them down the path of this final project. He had them deliver a 30-40 second pitch on a product or idea that they were going to sell. Each student lined up around the room and took turns doing what they had learned in the previous two months of the class.
Feakins also gave the students an option of being the project manager of a new company, or, if they didn’t have a vision they could sell, they could be the employees and join up with their classmates of the vision that they believed in.
“There were six people who opted not to pitch a start-up,” Feakins explained. “So at that point, the other 16 stood around the room, and for 10 seconds each, all the employees pitched themselves and what their strong suits were and how they could contribute to them.
“So then, the start-ups had to persuade the employees to come and work on their idea, and why it would be better for them to work with them and why they should believe in their vision.”
Eventually, some of the start-ups realized their vision wasn’t as strong as others in the class, and six groups had formed around the classroom.
One group started GloUp, a makeup company that comes to you (sort of like Etsy + Facebook + Uber). Another vision was Canadata, an unbiased/independent source for political information.
Easy Eats is a dietary app, Wingin’ It is a food truck of the best wings in town and Sip & See Co. wants to create straws that are safe for the environment.
Another group quickly had an epiphany.
“I had the student who was in charge of a different start-up ask me if they could switch and join another one because they believed in the vision of that more than their own,” Feakins said. “After I let him join a new group, I asked his employees if they wanted to keep it going or join another group, and they all decided to fold the company.”
So the five start-ups had almost a month to prepare every aspect of the final project. Obviously the pitch in front of the sharks, but also a 25-page business plan that they needed to hand into their professor before the big pitch.
“It’s a big ask, but we’ve been working really hard all semester on it towards this idea of being able to create a real business” Feakins admitted. “But the formula that I’m giving them is the Small Business Administration Loan format, so they could legitimately take these business plans to a bank and get a loan. There is no difference between what I’m asking them to complete and what you need in the real world.”
The Entrepreneurial Program has been a huge success in the first few years, allowing students to gain college credit while still walking the halls of Catholic High.
The second semester of the Entrepreneurial Program will focus on social media, and Feakins has big plans for the group that he’s not ready to unveil quite yet.
But if it’s anything like the first semester, Catholic High has found something that not too many other high schools offer, not only in the area, but in the state, as well.