The next generation of entrepreneurs

Staff writer

ROCKTON — A chance to introduce the Stateline Area to up-and-coming Hononegah Community High School student entrepreneurs kicked off seamlessly Tuesday, with around 100 family members, friends and business leaders hearing presentations on three different student business ideas.

The Incubator EDU program through the school’s entrepreneurship class is in its third year, and is part of a national program to help students focus business ideas in the classroom setting, before taking the ideas to the public to possibly net seed funding.

“All groups preformed really well,” said Career and Technology Education Department Coordinator Jason Brunke. “There was a great response from the audience and everyone was extremely impressed with the presentations.”

Tuesday’s presentation introduced three business ideas — “The Wood Canvas” by Junior’s Rima Bouhal, Anthony Lamonica and Cole Skadeland; “Valet Auto Solutions” by Junior Nathen Smith and “Apex Computing” by Sophomore Julien Brown and Junior Nick Sommer.

“I really found myself through this program,” Brown said. “I obtained so much knowledge and sets of skills that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for my fellow classmates and I.”

Keynote speaker and HCHS alum Jacob Bradt, owner of Rockford Buzz, addressed students and those present, which signals the strong ties between the school and the Stateline Area business community, Brunke said.

“It’s nice to see alums come back and contribute,” he added. “It’s great they can contribute and provide input on the value of the journey of entrepreneurship.”

Next year’s incubator class will have around 20 students, with high schoolers able to sign up for the fall class in February. The school has participated in the program since Brunke and other HCHS staff visited an open house for a prototype program in Barrington, Illinois. The high school was one of the original eight schools to pick up the program, Brunke said.

“The typical entrepreneurship class was not exactly what we wanted,” Brunke said. “We were blown away at the open house with what the kids were doing.”

Having the program helps bring area business leaders to the school to make connections for later in life, and added benefit, he added.

“They can come back from college or university and they will have these connections around the Stateline. It will give them the resources they might need to pursue a business venture here,” Brunke said.

• The Wooden Canvas: The students pitched the idea of using custom CNC routed and engraved wooden pieces, ranging from signs to custom wooden coasters.

• Valet Auto Solutions: The solo entrepreneurship venture seeks to provide custom detailing and car washings, in hopes of establishing a long-term concierges service for Stateline vehicle owners.

“The Hononegah incubator program was way more than I expected, and I already had amazing expectations but they blew the roof off this year,” Smith said. “It was the only reason some days I’d come to school, and I mean that. I was never an academically inclined student so I had no drive to come to school before this looking for every little excuse to not show up. So this class has meant a lot to me and I’m excited for next year.”

• Apex Computing: The IT solutions start up wants to provide on-site technology consulting for individuals on an “education at your pace” scale to familiarize the less-than-tech-savvy. The group said their venture could feasibly supplement for full-time IT positions, substituted for consulting work, for small businesses. “It’s an incredible program,” Brunke said. “It makes all the hard work worth it when you see it all come together. It really creates conversations and brings people together.”