Photo by Kelly White
Richards High School Entrepreneurship Class students (from left) Sarah Bargouthi, 16, and Lena Maali, 18, both of Chicago Ridge, pitched an idea for Starlight Gym, a gym dedicated to those strictly involved in gymnastics, dance, or cheerleading, on Dec. 11 during the class's version of Shark Tank. Their idea was presented in front of a panel of local entrepreneurs.
By Kelly White
On the hit reality television show "Shark Tank," entrepreneurs get the chance to bring their dreams to life. Thanks to Richards High School’s Entrepreneurship Class, students were able to do just that.
The class, taught by James Soderstrom, a business education teacher at Richards, held its very own version of Shark Tank on Dec. 11 at the high school, 10601 S. Central Ave,. Oak Lawn.
“ What I like most about this is that it is getting students away from old school education and moving towards a more 21st century learning model through project based learning,” Soderstrom said.
Shark Tank is an American business reality television series on ABC that premiered in 2009 and gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to make business presentations to a panel of five investors , also known as sharks, who decide whether to invest in their company.
Soderstrom’s class followed the same idea, as students worked in groups to propose a business plan to real-life local entrepreneurs. The goal was to gain some financial backing and assistance in getting their ideas or prototypes off the ground in exchange for some ownership rights to the sharks, Soderstrom said.
“ The students made real life pitches to the sharks with the knowledge that some of the sharks could be interested in becoming an investor in their business after they turn 18 and graduate from high school,” Soderstrom said.
Throughout the semester-long class, students have learned the fundamentals of business creation, planning, and how to launch a successful business venture. During the first half, Soderstrom invited a half dozen business owners to to his Entrepreneurship Classes. During these presentations, business owners discussed their work ethic, money, and time necessary to establish and build their businesses and brands. In addition to some wisdom, their appearances served as inspiration for the Shark Tank project.
“ This is a really great opportunity for our students to polish their entrepreneurial skills,” said Michael Jacobson, principal at Richards High School. “Mr. Soderstrom has really gone above and beyond in putting this together. What excites me the most are the relationships we have developed with local businesses. It’s great when the kids are able to see the real word application of what they study here at Richards.”
During the second part of the semester, teams of students have developed original products and business plans. They presented their ideas Shark Tank-style to a panel of the same business owners, including Joe Fontana, owner of Fry The Coop in Oak Lawn.
"It is incredible what Richards High School is doing in their Entrepreneurship Class,” Fontana said. “They are giving students the opportunity to create the American Dream for themselves at such an early age and that is very empowering. No one ever gave me that chance when I was that age. I didn't start a business until I was 34 years old, so this is a huge head start for the students."
Other sharks included Angelique Warner, of A Warner Idea, LLC, and AJ Weiger, of BOOM Entertainment.
“ Students should be proud of what they are doing, own it, and really be passionate about it,” Weiger said.
The students were guided by Soderstrom, who earned his Undergraduate degree in business management from DePaul University and master's degree from Roosevelt University in secondary education. The students researched and analyzed local, regional, and global business trends in many industries including: consumer goods, manufacturing, product service, sports and entertainment, technology, and social media.
Each group presentation of the students’ proposed business plans was limited to 15 minutes.
“ Then the entrepreneurs then asked questions of the group while the students hope for an investment from the entrepreneurs, which could bring their business plans to life after high school,” Soderstrom said.
Some of the pitches included a Starlight Gym, which is an idea for a gym dedicated to those strictly involved in gymnastics, dance, or cheerleading. The idea was presented by Entrepreneurship students Sarah Bargouthi, Lena Maali and Samantha Krueger, who felt traditional gym memberships lack focus on these athletic areas.
"This gave me a real life experience in starting up a business based on the costs and what will go into it because I have always wanted to own my own business after school,” said Sarah Bargouthi, 16, of Chicago Ridge.
"In the future I will no longer struggle with idea generation and creating a business plan because of this project,” said Lena Maali, 18, of Chicago Ridge.
A group made up of students Mikayla Dove, Halle Idowu and Tarell Hicks created what they are calling the B3O, or Big 3 Trio. The idea is socks with elastic pockets to carry small devices, money, or change.
“ This has helped them with time management skills, organization, and responsibility,” said Mikayla Dove, 17, of Oak Lawn.
Entrepreneurship students Trishara Watkins and Criston Jackson decided to aim their focus at changing the make of an already existing item with a redesigned football face mask with clips rather than screws to help trainers remove face masks after serious head/neck injuries for all ages of football.
Sharks saw potential in all of the group’s product pitches and praised their creativity and determination.