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East, West Entrepreneurs Awarded Seed Money to Kick-Start Business Ideas

East, West Entrepreneurs Awarded Seed Money to Kick-Start Business Ideas

“Students, you have one proud teacher tonight.” These were the parting words from INCubatoredu@Lakota teacher Kevin Keen that closed out the program’s inaugural “Pitch Night” at Miami University’s Voice of America Learning Center on May 11. Nine months in the making, the evening spotlighted the top five of 20 new business ideas developed by budding student entrepreneurs at both Lakota East and Lakota West. 

In the end, the top three teams walked away with a collective $2,000 in seed money to help kick start their businesses and turn their ideas into reality. 

“The best part was seeing something so small grow into something so tangible,” said Lakota West senior Lillian Elliott. She helped develop the idea of Gemini Clothing Co., a clothing line repurposing donated clothing to help address the negative environmental effect of “fast fashion”. Her group tied for second place alongside StRide, which provided a new spin on student ridesharing. The top team was Local Eatz, an interactive mobile app to help local, independent restaurants connect to the community. 

All of their pitches, presented to a panel of local start-up experts who served as judges, represented the culmination of nine months of intense research, meetings and planning. Lakota is only the second school district in Ohio - and one of just 125 nationwide - to make the “Shark Tank” concept a class for its juniors and seniors. The entrepreneurial experience allows students to work alongside professional mentors to ideate and develop their own product or service before presenting them to local investors.

“The mentor piece of the program is at the top of the list of things that make this program so special,” said Keen, who helped pair each group with a mentor of similar interests or experience. “The mentors and teams built a relationship where the students gained so much real world experience.”

Each group’s presentation included evidence of different steps in their business development process and pieces of the INCubatoredu curriculum. From analyses of market competitors and revenue models to their business’s minimum value proposition and marketing strategies, each group put on display what they’d learned in class and by working alongside their mentors. They also addressed the non-rehearsed questions of the panels of judges who were considering which ideas were the most feasible. 

The whole experience transcends any student’s decision to pursue a future in entrepreneurism, pointed out Lakota East junior Rehab Jarahab. Even with plans to become a human rights lawyer, she and two of her teammates are enrolled in the next phase of INCubatoredu, where they hope to fine tune and eventually launch their business idea, Never Walk Alone, an app that strives to make college campus safety “a right, not a privilege.” 

“This was different than any other class I’ve taken,” reflected her teammate and Lakota East junior Mia Hilkowitz. “We weren’t just learning for the sake of learning and it wasn’t centered around a grade. There are a lot of life skills that I’ll take with me and use even if I don’t go into business.”

“We are so grateful to the mentors who were part of this,” said Keith Koehne, Lakota’s executive director of curriculum and instruction. Lakota leaned on 24 business partners to help guide the 100 students enrolled in the first year of the program. “Their enthusiasm and encouragement every step of the way was fantastic to watch. We hope this mentality spreads like wildfire and we get more and more mentors so we can have more and more kids experiencing this type of learning.”

To learn more about how to get involved as a business partner with INCubatoredu or other real world learning opportunities throughout Lakota, contact Lakota’s strategic partnerships coordinator, Katie Bauer, at

  • real world learning