Left to right, Dave Milligan, Rafael Martinez, Sue Milligan, Sarah Pahuni, and Sarah Alsulaimawi.Submitted photo

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Evanston Township High School student entrepreneurs recently showcased newly developed businesses at ETHS’s inaugural Algebra in Entrepreneurship Start-Up Showcase. 

Twenty-two students in six business groups demonstrated their products at an in-school Trade Show and made pitches to a “Shark Tank”-inspired panel of judges. 

The businesses were created as part of a new course at ETHS, Algebra in Entrepreneurship (AiE), and the showcase was the culmination of a year of classwork supported by community-based partners and entrepreneurs.

“iE was created within ETHS as a way of energizing students through applied and project-based learning,” said Dale Leibforth, Department Chair of Mathematics at ETHS.  “The course is taught jointly with the Mathematics and Career & Technical Education (CTE) departments.”

“Our Geometry in Construction course, where students build a house while learning Geometry, has been a great success.  We wanted to see if we could replicate that success with an internally developed concept that combines math with another real world context,” added Shelley Gates, Department Chair of CTE at ETHS. “Key to the success of has been the involvement of entrepreneurs from our community,” said Ms. Gates.

ETHS alumni David (’58) and Susan (’60) Milligan have pledged $250,000 to fund the new Entrepreneurship Center, a dynamic classroom environment and home to the course and other entrepreneurial classes. After hearing the students’ pitches at the showcase, Dr. Milligan said, “I have to remind myself that these are mostly freshman. I can’t wait to see what they’ll accomplish over the next several years and beyond.”

“In addition to the Milligans, other community entrepreneurs have mentored the students throughout this process, especially Mike Rogers, who has really embraced this idea,” said Ms. Gates.

“The experience has been amazing,” said Mr. Rogers (’84), owner of Dimension Design, a Glenview-based graphic design and experiential marketing firm. Mr. Rogers, who was a lead mentor for the course, also emceed the Showcase event.  “Seeing the growth in the students and what they have accomplished is really gratifying,” he said.

“As part of the business creation, students had to explain their “value proposition,” which is the benefit being offered to its customers,” said Chris Manila, CTE Teacher and one of the founding teachers for the course.

The businesses and their value propositions are:

E-Town Bands – “A fashion accessory for Wildkit athletes.”  (“Wildkit” printed headbands)

Genie Health – “Keeping students fresh during the most hectic hours of the day.”  (Delivering a variety of hygiene related products for students to use following their gym classes.)

Got Sound – “A convenient way of purchasing high-quality earphones at a reasonable price.”

Kover-K – “An ID Holder that creates a functional solution for disorganized students.” (attaches to cell phones).

PRO-SSR – “A protective cover that doesn’t blend into the crowd.” (key pad covers for Chromebooks used by students).

UFO Portable Chargers – “Ensuring no student experiences a dead battery.” (small portable reserve batteries for cell phones).

Each group presented its business concept and its results, and then answered questions from the judges’ panel, which scored each team. The high-scoring team and the winner of the Business of the Year for 2016 was PRO-SSR.  This team, led by Sarah Alsulaimawi, included Sarah Pahuni and Rafael Martinez.

“We faced a lot of challenges starting our business. Our original product didn’t work and we were pretty far behind the other groups when we started our new idea. I learned that if opportunity doesn’t knock, you have to build a door,” Sarah said..

During the Trade Show portion of the showcase event, students demonstrated their products and discussed their businesses with parents, ETHS faculty and staff, and business people from within the community.  Based on their interactions with students during this process, the trade show visitors voted for “Team Leads of the Year” based on the functional roles those students served in their business. The team leads of the year for 2016 were Customer Service/Sales: Holli Nester-Detweiler, Kover-K.

Supply Chain: Sarah Pahuni, PRO-SSR

Marketing: Demari Triplett, UFO Portable Chargers

Manager: Sarah Alsulaimawi, PRO-SSR

In addition, the students voted among themselves to name the “Most Improved Entrepreneur” based on the student who showed the most growth in entrepreneurship, algebra, and overall as a student.  As selected by his peers, the winner was Owen Reel from UFO Portable Chargers.

Next school year, the course will expand to two sections, with over 40 students. In addition to the first time entrepreneurs, the program will retain some of this year’s students to come on board as student mentors, while continuing to operate their businesses.