INCubatoredu Cultivates Future Entrepreneurs

INCubatoredu@Lakota Cultivates 100 Future Entrepreneurs
Posted on 09/22/2020
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collage of incubator mentorsKevin Keen can recall several good answers he received after asking his 100 students what they hoped to get out of Lakota’s newest course for budding entrepreneurs. But his favorite was the student who said that she wanted to use the class to “make as many mistakes as possible while there are no real stakes involved.”

“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Keen said. “This whole experience is about creating opportunities for [students] to make mistakes and learn from them.” 

Lakota is only the second school district in Ohio - and one of just 125 nationwide - to make “Shark Tank” a class for its juniors and seniors at both Lakota East and Lakota West this school year. Officially called INCubatoredu@Lakota, the entrepreneurial experience allows students to work alongside professional mentors to ideate and develop their own product or service. In the end, they will compete in teams against their classmates, pitching their ideas to local investors who will award seed money to help make the top ideas a reality. 

“My biggest challenge so far has been helping students to understand that they don’t have to be an inventor through this process. They just have to be an innovator,” said Keen, who has spent the first four weeks of class on unit one: ideation. So far, students have come up with and pitched a whole host of problems they want to solve this year, including a way for parents to be alerted when their child is submerged underwater for too long, a tool that spits out meal options in spite of certain allergies, and something to make golf more appealing to kids their age. 

Besides a set curriculum developed by both educators and entrepreneurs and designed to mimic real-world accelerators and incubators, according to Lakota’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, Keith Koehne, the program’s real “secret ingredient” is its mentors. 

“We have all these great people who are willing to jump in and serve as mentors and guides along the way,” Koehne said during a virtual kickoff with Lakota’s INCubator mentors. “This is not a program where kids sit and watch and listen and take notes and move on. This is really learning by doing, building something real and getting good, honest feedback from actual entrepreneurs.”

So far, Lakota has recruited 24 professionals to serve as mentors during the program’s inaugural year. Representing a wide range of industries and experiences, the mentors will be paired with a group of four or five students through a methodical matchmaking process that carefully considers both the students’ and professionals’ interests. They will meet at least twice a month - virtually for now - to check in on their progress, while offering guidance and perspective based on their own entrepreneurial experiences. 

“Entrepreneurship always seemed very risky and scary to me, so I had a ‘safe’ job for almost 20 years before I took the leap to start my own business,” said Michelle Moody, publisher and franchise owner for West Chester Liberty Lifestyle Magazine. “If there had been a program like INCubatoredu when I was in school, I would have been much more prepared to start my own business and I probably would have ventured into entrepreneurship much sooner in my career.” 

Others like John Pinkston, who found his success in a locally owned hot dog cart serving the Greater Cincinnati region, is most looking forward to the two-way dialogue with his students. “I’m interested in what motivates them, how and what they think, along with where they’re headed,” he said. “I’m looking for meaningful takeaways that we both can share. I’m interested in what they can teach me as well as what they might appreciate from my experience.” 

Koehne reminded mentors that INCubatoredu was a direct response to Lakota’s decision to add “Entrepreneurship” as the fourth “E” for post-graduate options promoted to students, along with Enrollment, Employment and Enlistment. “We believe strongly in the ability for our kids to chart their own future and to give them the tools to do that,” he said. “We are thrilled to have this program as one piece to that whole puzzle.”

Similarly, mentor Anisha Bailey, the founder of Taxley and the Taxley Academy, is looking forward to helping students see an alternate pathway. “I believe it’s easy to find ourselves stuck in the tradition of high school, college, job,” Bailey said. “While there’s nothing wrong with tradition, I think it’s important for young people to know that other possibilities await them. Being a part of this program allows me to show more students the flexibility, possibilities and impact entrepreneurship can have on their lives and the lives of those they will serve.” 

The complete INCubatoredu curriculum that Lakota is following is a product of Uncharted Learning and is sponsored by Miami University’s Farmer School of Business John W. Altman Institute for Entrepreneurship. Randy Wilhelm is more than just a mentor to some of Lakota’s INCubatoredu students. As the owner of a local consulting firm for business accelerators called Think Horsepower, he has ridden shotgun with the district over the last 18 months as they shadowed and learned from other districts implementing the same program. 

“There’s hardly anything that could make me happier than watching entrepreneurship grow within our region,” Wilhelm said. “I believe that it’s the lifeblood of what we do and it’s an economic engine for us.”

As part of the INCubatoredu network, some groups may have the opportunity to compete and present their ideas at the regional, state and national levels, where they can qualify for additional seed money to cultivate their idea. 

Some mentors will double as subject matter experts, or “coaches”, to present on specific topics that align with the INCubatoredu curriculum. Lakota is still seeking coaches to assist in all subject areas, including customer discovery & segmentation; accounting & finances; minimum viable product development; sales & marketing; business law and more. Contact Lakota’s strategic partnerships coordinator, Katie Bauer, at to learn more about this opportunity.