School District Looks To Tap Private Funds For Student Entrepreneurs

By Melhor Leonor Naples Daily News, Fla.

Immokalee High sophomore Esmeralda Quintero took the challenge of her entrepreneurship class -- to come up with an idea that could become a viable business -- and designed an automated restroom door.

"We've looked it up and there is nothing out there like what we have," she said.

Dozens of students in every Collier County high school have mapped out their own business ideas, and are now asking for funding to turn classroom projects into real-world, moneymaking businesses.

To make that happen, school officials in Collier County have set out to tap the pockets of local donors to create a fund that will subsidize the startup costs of dozens of small businesses run by teenage entrepreneurs.

"There is no way we can use public dollars for kids to test their ideas ... But without it, there will be a lack of real-life learning experience," said Collier County Public Schools Superintendent Kamela Patton.

Patton and other school district officials came Tuesday to what they hope is the first of many fundraising events, hosted by local supporters of the INCubatoredu program.

At a home in North Naples, students and teachers involved in the school district's entrepreneurship class pitched the program to two dozen locals -- emphasizing the need for professional mentors and dollars to fund student-run ventures.

"What we want to stand for is real-world experiences. We have to expose them to real challenges," said John Gamba, a local entrepreneur whose family hosted Tuesday's fundraiser.

"It's a public-private combination that we see having the most impact on our kids."

The school district has set its goal at $2.5 million to build an endowment for the program that will fund this year's projects and assure the program's future.

Annually, the school district hopes to dedicate $18,000 to funding student-run businesses and $45,000 to fund resources for the program.

In donation cards handed out Tuesday, the school district suggests one time contributions or three-year commitments of $1,000, $2,500 or $5,000 per year. Donors can also make a capital donation to fund a particular school's program.

The program, INCubatoredu was launched at every high school in Collier County last fall and is offered as an elective to all high school students. The program was developed at a high school in Barrington, Illinois.

Students enrolled in the class develop a product and a business model with the guidance of a teacher and a mentor with business experience. Students also receive lessons in topics like marketing and technology from local businesspeople who volunteer their time to the program.

The fund for the INCubatoredu program will be managed by the Community Foundation of Collier County, which accepts donations in cash or assets. Foundation leaders said Tuesday that they would be in charge of monitoring the use of the dollars, even as district administration changes.

Patton told the audience that donors would receive newsletters periodically and annual reports on the progress of INCubatoredu.

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