Pitch Night

As the final step in the INCubator program, students deliver presentations of their products in the hopes of attracting potential investors.

Building a business from the ground up is a venture that can challenge even the most savvy of entrepreneurs, from the planning stages right up to the finished product.

However, for students at Liberty Hill High School, there is a program in place for those who may wish to pursue such undertakings in the future – the INCubatoredu program – a class that lasts an entire school year with the objective to provide an authentic entrepreneur experience that covers the entire process.

As a culmination of the class, students competed in “Pitch Night” – a competition modeled after the reality-television show “Shark Tank” – in which teams of four students were tasked with identifying a need, then developing a solution in the form of goods or services and finally crafting a presentation for potential investors.

The team of juniors Taryn Cook, Rylie Mayo, McKenzie Plott and senior Katie Elder conceived a company called “Bee Prepared,” a service that provides travel baskets with common personal hygiene items that are delivered directly to hotels.

“Whenever you go someplace, people are bound to forget something,” said Plott. “Also, with airline restrictions, you can't always bring full-size shampoo bottles and things like that.”

In addition, the group decided proceeds would go toward bee conservation to help ensure the survival of the insects that pollinate one-third of the world's food supply, but are dying at alarming rates – hence the company name's double meaning.

Plott said perhaps the most difficult aspect of the entire process is establishing synergy and an equitable workload among the team members.

“Getting everybody on the same page is really important,” she said. “We need each person to do an equal amount of work.”

Clarissa Moreno identified an improvement that could be made to an existing product – car window shades.

“Our shades are unique in they're automatic,” she said, of the product her company, “Helios Car Shades,” produces. “They roll up and down on your windshield.”

According to business teacher Dimitra Becker, the class identifies possible projects, then narrows the list down before breaking into groups to make the concepts a reality.

“First, they identify problems, then have to come up with solutions,” said Becker. “It's a very thorough program.”

Ella Pogue and her team identified a way to improve dog collars through technology.

“We decided to design smart pet collars, with bluetooth and other features,” she said. “We realized during the pandemic when many pet owners were working from home, their pets got accustomed to a particular feeding schedule. But, when people went back to work, they weren't necessarily home at the same times, so this would allow them to remotely activate a device that would release food into a bowl at the right time.”

As part of the INCubator program, real-world business owners are brought in as advisers to the students as they progress, offering wisdom to the younger versions of themselves.

Nichole Welch is the owner of Texas Paint and Fabrication – a Bertram-based organization that offers painting, sandblasting and epoxy repair to various pieces of heavy equipment and is happy to be able to lend her expertise.

“I wish I had this kind of opportunity when I was in high school,” said Welch. “Back when I was starting my first company, I had to learn everything for myself because it wasn't anything that was taught in school, so it's great to be able to pass it on.”

Cook said the entire process was invaluable.

“It was definitely a good learning experience,” she said. “Something that will stick with you for the rest of your life.”