by John Jonelis
Ever want to be a Shark on the popular reality TV show? Wish you controlled a billion dollar investment account? Wonder what it’s like? I’m here at Chicago’s 1871 incubator doing it. Emotions run high. Hey, mine are running away with me. That guy on the end keeps grabbing all the deals!
Most of these teams are looking for $100K or so for maybe 15% of the company, but the Sharks seem to want more control than that. Offers meet counter-offers. Investors make hardnosed bids—they team up—steal deals—the usual shenanigans seen on TV.
Negotiations get heated and sometimes abstract. Lance Pressl works a convoluted deal structure in the next room. No problem—both sides seem on track with it. But I’m out. In the long run, any of these companies might produce hockey stick growth or go belly-up.
Now I’m hearing a pitch from a company called Water Power. I want this one in the worst way. I know the industry. It’s a hugely exciting company with a highly attractive energy product, easily scalable, and a terrific business model.
They’re asking $200K for 20% of the company—a $1M valuation. It’s low. Way low. I tell them they’re undercapitalized and immediately boost the offer for a controlling stake. They counter. Another shark joins me. Meanwhile, that guy on the end is dickering with a completely different set of parameters that sound pretty good.
Ah, but I notice these teams value a strategic investor, so I mention my experience in the industry and that seals the deal. Satisfaction! Victory! Hooray!
Who Gets to Play
Did I mention these are Junior High Students? Not just any young punks—these are highly gifted, highly precocious, and highly competitive young people. Their pitches rival those seen on TV. Some of these kids are hopefuls for enrollment at the prestigious Illinois State High School for the gifted, the Illinois Math and Science Academy—IMSA.
This entire program is put on by IMSA TALENT. It pits the best and the brightest junior high school students against experienced investors and CEOs at an event that reproduces the popular reality TV show, Shark Tank. Hey, this is a blast!
How it Works
- IMSA TALENT puts these kids through a fast-paced deep-immersion experience. The school maintains space at 1871, the enormous incubator in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, so the teams rub shoulders with lots of real startups. That’s huge.
- Every decision, every action, gets entered into a computer simulation that spits out consequences and makes the process as close to the real thing as you can get.
- Each team creates an actual product, design, prototype, business model canvas, go-to-market strategy, financials, their pitch—the works.
- Sharks come armed with unlimited investment capital in the form of Monopoly™ Money and strike cutthroat last-minute negotiations. Think that’s not realistic? Once those dollars get plugged into the simulation, they’re real enough to make or break a company.
Once again, IMSA proves that, given the opportunity and the right coaching, brilliant children can outperform ordinary adults. Hats off to Carl Heine and Jim Gerry.
Last year I got caught-up in the spirit of the thing, which is dangerously easy to do. One kid was so professional, I forgot myself. I lost my head and asked the team to present before the Heartland Angels. Lesson learned—School first, then business. This year, I keep that straight.
Lance Pressl, John Detjen, Brian Brandenburg, Jeff Prussack, Joe Guarascio, John Jonelis
Alexandria Cannon, Alp Demirtas, Aman Shah, Ammar Ladhani, Arjun Vyas, Arshia Ajmera, Chandra Gangavarapu, Daniel DeBoer, Dev Singh, Dhruv Nambisan, Ellis Irwin, Erol Ikiz, Ethan Tse, Jacob Conroy, James Raflores, Joseph Tennyson, Joshua Tennyson, Katreena Subramanian, Madeline Drafall, Marc Peczka, Ohm Vyas, Parth Bhatt, Prarthana Prashanth, Shreya Maganti, Shreya Pattisapu, Shreyas Manikonda, Simone Seno, Sydney Elvart, Vismay Vyas, Yuhan Lin.
Jim Gerry, PhD
Carl Heine, PhD, Director, IMSA TALENT and Cool Hub IMSA.
firstname.lastname@example.org Office 630-907-5921 Fax 630-907-5062
Read related article: WHIZ KIDS
Photo credits – Students: IMSA; Architecture: John Jonelis; Shark image: MS Office
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