On the night before LFHS’ annual Pitch Night, the house of junior Madison DaValle was awash with conversation. Oddly enough, however, many of those conversations were one-sided as they consisted of the four junior students–in different areas of the house–practicing their individual roles for the sales pitch of their product, Lightning Bug, to community investors.
“We prepped a lot,” affirmed junior Grace Geraghty with a smile. “The night before you could have walked in to Madison’s house and seen us staring at the wall memorizing our material or walking around talking to ourselves.”
Indeed, practice certainly made for a, if not perfect, very close to perfect pitch night for the four talented juniors who make up the Lightning Bug team, Grace Geraghty, Madison DaValle, Clayton Wilbur, Landon Edwards, and John Norkus.
Lightning Bug, described eloquently by DaValle as, “an on-demand babysitting app that instantly provides reliable, high school-aged babysitters to parents in the Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, Highland Park and Deerfield communities,” is the first of its kind and received $17,500 of funding from members of the community and the Lake Forest High School Foundation.
Using the format of the popular ride sharing app, Uber, Lightning Bug hatched their idea, complete with a two-way rating system for the sitters and the parents, plus a relatable format from shiftgig, a $40 million company based in Chicago, the team launched their trial run that began on March 1st of this year on lightningbugbabysitters.com. The trial has been very successful and the young entrepreneurs used the research and data from that trial in their pitches to persuade possible funders last Thursday night.
Of course, an idea such as this doesn’t happen overnight, but it was, in fact, the group’s first idea that they decided on back in first semester. Utilizing the intelligent and nuanced business knowledge of their teacher, Mr. Joe Pulio, as well as their mentors, Mr. Paul Best, a business consultant who met with the group one time per week, and Mr. Brian Martin, the mentor for another company in the class.
When Geraghty and DaValle were asked about the work that they put into the now-successful product, the two juniors–who are also athletes, honors students, and social 17-year-old kids–looked at each other and smiled, reminiscing on the copious hours that the group put into the process.
“It was certainly a lot of work and at times it was crazy,” assured DaValle. “But we knew that our preparation would lead to a sound performance when the time came. And it did.” Relaying a similar sentiment, Geraghty added, “You have to know your product inside and out to successfully sell it to others. We worked together, with Mr. Pulio, and with our mentors to devise a plan to answer every possible question that funders would shoot at us with knowledgable, confident answers that were accurate and projected a positive image of our business.”
From memorizing the ultimate pitch, to more behind-the-scenes work like developing the software, running the financials, accruing the start-up costs, and securing the intellectual property of the project, the team effectively divvied up the responsibilities like a full-blown start-up company. Despite all that these young men and women have on their plate, like the IHSA Track and Field state championships (Edwards), football workouts (Wilbur), a record-setting lacrosse season and her coinciding college recruitment (Geraghty), and another Track and Field season (DaValle), the group made sure all their ducks were in a row when the bright lights shined on the stage Thursday night in the Raymond Moore Auditorium.
Though they were not the only group to receive funding, Lightning Bug stole the show at the community event, gaining financial support from the LFHS Foundation, an outside investor, and from another Business Incubator class company’s mentor.
Even with the end of the school year looming, the group is looking to transition from the website format to the app as their next main venture, while also cleaning up some of the logistics of the company.
“We truly think that this product can scale really big,” insisted DaValle. “Our passion has been there since the very beginning and all five of us put in a great deal of time.”
Like any educational endeavor, though, the students involved with this incredible opportunity that the high school presents had more to take away from the experience than the potential dollars and cents they may earn in the future.
When asked what she learned from the course as a whole, Grace Geraghty responded enthusiastically. “I learned how to communicate–via email and in person–with professionals, effectively respond to customers, and market our product in ways that work for specific demographics. The takeaways from the Business Incubator class are undeniable.”
When asked the same question, DaValle also echoed positive support for what she learned through Mr. Pulio’s Business Incubator class. “We learned that you can’t be afraid to ask really successful people for help…sometimes twice and three times,” DaValle explained with a laugh. “They have the knowledge, and you have to be willing to work hard to learn about the experiences that you’ll need to be successful.”
As is the case with the other many successful ventures at Lake Forest High School in 2017, the winning formula for Lightning Bug was simple: A common goal, several hard-working, relentless students, the help and guidance of the tremendous people in our community , and the mindset to continually improve your craft.
Of course, the future for Lightning Bug and its founders is undeniably bright, but their hard work in the Lake Forest High School Business Incubator program over the course of the 2016-17 school year cannot be undervalued.