Students Sam Mills, Lauren Henderson, Taylor Hawks and Wesley Roberson pitch their product, Cozy Pillow, during the school’s annual Shark Tank competition in 2017.

Special to Find It In Fondren® (Mantle./Christopher Lomax)

Five years ago a teacher of government and economics at Jackson Prep decided she wanted more for her students.

LouAnn McKibben was determined to find a way to make teaching economics more relevant to real life in contrast to being so heavy on theory. What she started was a more hands-on approach to learning the how-tos of starting a business that has now evolved into a student favorite and annual ‘Shark Tank’ competition.

“At least, that’s what the students call it,” McKibben says about her entrepreneur class that culminates for the second straight year in an Investor Pitch Day at Mantle. this Wednesday morning, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

McKibben’s class of entrepreneurs will experience what it’s like to try and sell an idea to investors for venture capital during this year’s “pitch day,” too. The experience includes a morning waiting around the Mantle. Living Room where they can drink coffee and practice before they have a chance to pitch a board of “investors” on their business concepts in the Duling boardroom.

Comprised of approximately 45 students, the class started the year at Mantle., too. Before the school year, the class was divided into 11 groups after catching up over pizza and refreshments at the Mantle. kickoff and ideas reveal party. The teams took their ideas from that party and tested them with customers and either proved or pivoted with their concepts.

A primary focus of this year’s startup project has been communication. As McKibben explains, “You’re not going to necessarily be in a group with your best friend.” Whether operating a business or building a social network, McKibben hopes to instill that communication is vital to achieving success.

The use of mentors continues to be a key component to the class and each project’s success. Each team was placed with a local business-person possessing years of experience which allows the students to tap into knowledge not found in their textbook. The mentor’s role is not to do the work or give the team a blueprint for making their idea successful. Rather, mentors were there to keep the teams focused, provide perspective, and to keep them on the right path to achieving their goals.

Also, for the first time, McKibben and her entrepreneurs collaborated with the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Mississippi State University. It was a tremendous opportunity for a group of high school students to get a first-hand, inside look into how education is constantly changing and the necessity for it to adapt to the rapid growth in technology and other relevant factors impacting the business world.

For the Investor Pitch, each team of students will be given 10 minutes to pitch their idea and convince a panel of “investors” to join their team. With their pitch, each team will be attempting to sell why their potential company, product, or service ought to exist in the marketplace. The “investors” will judge the students on whether they would invest in each idea and team.

There is no monetary prize won or investments made. However, the knowledge and experience gained by working in groups, communicating with local business mentors for Q&A, and the newly formed relationship with MSU’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, outweighs theory-based teaching solely from the textbook.