Parkway e-News Story

Meet the High School CEO

Many students dream of owning their own businesses, but don’t know how to get started. Parkway plans to change all that with Spark!, a new program for student entrepreneurs.

Spark! is a collaboration among the district and more than 70 local entrepreneurs and business professionals. Spark! Incubator’s goal is to help student entrepreneurs develop the skills necessary to move an idea from light bulb to launch. Students spend five to seven hours a week at Spark! Incubator headquarters in Chesterfield Mall. In this creative off-site space, they meet with business mentors and access other community resources to help them develop start-up companies, social enterprises or nonprofit organizations.

Check out the Spark! story on KMOV Channel 4.

Annalise Ruzicka and Marisa Hacker, two North High students in Spark! Incubator, want to market a straw with holes to evenly dispense butter in popcorn boxes. Butter shouldn’t congregate at the top, as it does in most current popcorn boxes, they say. The pair, also best friends, have an upcoming meeting with the vice president of Wehrenberg Theatres to pitch their straw idea and proposed marketing campaign: “Promoting a ‘butter’ movie experience for movie goers.”

Real-world experience supports Parkway's mission
Giving students this kind of practical experience is a strong component of Parkway’s mission statement. The only local public school program of its kind, Spark! is a “safe environment for our kids to take risks, get real-world experience and learn how to navigate the highs and lows of launching a business,” says Jennifer Stanfill, Parkway’s coordinator of career education and partnerships.

Saad Sukhera, another of the 19 students in the Spark! Incubator, has already lined up an investor for his enterprise – an online gaming community. A South High senior, Saad jumped at the chance to enroll in Spark! after he realized that most gamers – those who play online interactive or video games – lack social skills. His new online gaming community, Legendary, Inc., focuses on sociability. In addition to gaming skills, Legendary, Inc., provides the skills needed to carry on with life off-screen.

Dress for success
Xanthe Meyer, South High marketing teacher, serves as the off-site Spark! Incubator liaison between student entrepreneurs like Saad and established entrepreneurs in the community. With a background in marketing education, she requires her students to dress in conventional business suits and attire. The application process to join the Spark! Incubator was unconventional, however, according to Meyer and Stanfill. “We did not look at GPAs or attendance. We asked students to submit a 60-second video to pitch an innovative product or service idea. If students did not have a specific idea, they pitched themselves and spoke of how they could support the launch of a new product or service idea.”

The Spark! Incubator has already generated considerable interest from inside and outside the Parkway community. The Parkway Alumni Association encourages these student entrepreneurs to apply for $1,000 grants to help make their business ventures a reality. Teachers within Parkway are mulling over how to start this entrepreneurial model in middle school at the gifted MOSAICS academy. Meanwhile, Parkway launched a new business education class for all eighth-graders this year, “Make It Your Own Business,” to increase awareness of entrepreneurship in middle school. And a number of CEOs within the community are clamoring to be the point-person and mentor to Parkway students.

Maryville University has also partnered with Parkway to assist in the expenses associated with the Spark! Incubator at Chesterfield Mall. “Steve Jobs did not turn Apple into one of the biggest companies in the world by himself,” says Stanfill. “It took a team of talented, dedicated people working collaboratively to help him realize his vision.”

Pictured above: Blaine Thomas, South High and Marisa Hacker, North High