Midlothian ISD isn’t the first North Texas school district to implement INCubatoredu, an educational program showing high school students the ropes of entrepreneurship, but it’s the first to renovate an entire vacant school to house the program, among other offerings.
Dallas Innovates first reported on the program last year when Coppell ISD students took the stage for their final pitch competition at Varidesk’s headquarters. The program has only continued to expand across North Texas, with other school districts including Irving ISD and Frisco ISD joining the pack. Midlothian ISD is one of the latest additions to the program.
Midlothian was faced with a problem: a vacant elementary school building. So, the district turned to the Texas Education Agency’s guidelines, which wanted school districts to align their offerings to the local workforce’s needs, according to Nikki Nix, Midlothian ISD’s director of secondary learning.
One of the top three areas of growth in Texas was corporate and business management. With Google building a data center and a new hospital in town, it seemed like there was a “cosmic energy coming together” in Midlothian, according to Nix.
“When we started researching ways to offer a coherent program for students that was related to business and entrepreneurship, we stumbled upon INCubator,” Nix tells Dallas Innovates.
Midlothian’s INCubator program begins this school year at the freshman and sophomore levels, with the full four-year program launching in August 2020 along with the renovated elementary school, which will be known as The MILE – Midlothian Innovative Learning Experience.
Jason Jacobus is the executive vice president of sales at Buckley Oil, a chemical distributor headquartered in Midlothian, and has helped the program as its community co-chair, even traveling to Chicago this year for the program’s annual meeting.
“What this program does is it teaches kids about grit, it teaches kids how to work hard, it teaches them how to apply the things that they’ve learned all throughout their educational process, but it also teaches them to accept and work with the ambiguity of situations,” Jacobus told Dallas Innovates. “And I think that’s one of the things that really jumped off the page to us that we felt this program is going to develop the kinds of people that we want to hire from a company.”
Coppell-based Varidesk has also been an avid supporter of the INCubatoredu program. Jason McCann, the office furniture company’s CEO, even participated as a “shark” during Coppell ISD’s Shark Tank-style pitch competition last year. Varidesk is continuing its influence on the program by donating a classroom of furniture to Midlothian ISD’s INCubatoredu program.
“A guy like Jason McCann, the CEO of Varidesk, understands that if he contributes to those students, that the quality of the people that he will hire four or five years from now will be much greater,” Jacobus says. “So it’s a duty, but it’s also our ability to improve the quality of our future hires.”
How Midlothian’s INCubatoredu program will work
INCubatoredu isn’t like most high school curriculums—every student’s problems will be different with no “correct” answers. Students will learn about topics such as marketing, pricing models, and manufacturing, concepts typically not discussed in high school classrooms.
The program starts during students’ freshman year. The first two years are more of a learning process, while the second half focuses on building an actual business around a product or service.
Although the program is individualized, students won’t learn in isolation. Students will work with mentors from their community who will guide them throughout the program. The students can also reach out to others in the INCubatoredu program or go outside of the program for help with problem-solving.
“If a kid has an idea about engineering this cool object or whatever it is, they’re working with our engineering students and helping to actually 3D print that or make it come to life and create their first prototypes, so that they can have the viable product they need,” Nix says.
Mark Cuban isn’t involved with the program—not yet, anyways. But it does involve a Shark Tank-style pitch competition during junior year where students can gain seed money from actual investors for their business ideas.
Senior year, students can use that seed money to launch their businesses in the real world with the help of their mentors.
Midlothian ISD’s INCubatoredu program is still in its early stages, but hopes to gain participation from more companies and local universities in the coming years.
“We need to make sure that students are prepared,” Nix says, “so that we’re graduating kids that are going to stay here and give back to our workforce here locally and create that hiring pipeline for business and industry.”
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