Winnetka, Community

StartUp U students show off their ideas on Pitch Night

New Trier High School business students only climbed a handful of steps to get on stage Thursday, but Jackie Avitia-Guzman thought they made a much larger step up.

The students were finalists in the school’s entrepreneurship course, also called StartUp U. Avitia-Guzman met with the students early in the school year and was wowed by the transformation she saw on Pitch Night Thursday, May 11, in Gaffney Auditorium in Winnetka.

“I think it’s exciting,” she said. “I get to see their evolution through the year. They grow up. From start to end, it’s a tremendous amount of growth.”

Pitch Night is a “Shark Tank”-style event in which judges determine the best concept among a group of finalists. Three finalist teams were chosen from seven that created and developed a product in the year-long business course.

Wayfinders representatives discuss their business model on Pitch Night.

The New Trier Educational Foundation has funded StartUp U since 2018, and foundation members, including board member Avitia-Guzman, were on hand for the fourth Pitch Night.

The evening was emceed by class instructor Sara Burnett, who told the audience that the entrepreneurship class uses curriculum shared by more than 200 high schools worldwide. The students begin each school year with an idea for a new product or service, team up and — with help from volunteers from the community — develop it through business planning, financial modeling, and market research and analysis.

The final three businesses were: Sweetest Aglet, which sells chews to put on hoodie strings; Wayfinders, which creates digital emergency-exit mapping for schools and other populated buildings; and Millmette, which provides camps, birthday parties and unique games for children.

The judges heard from presenters and asked questions before deliberating to select their winner: Millmette Camps, Parties and Games.

New Trier StartUp U students and judges on Pitch Night Thursday, May 11, in Gaffney Auditorium.

Millmette is led by student Miles Friedman, who actually launched his concept in August 2022 and reportedly has earned thousands of dollars in profit since.

Aside from bragging rights among his classmates, Friedman won a swag bag with a business book, reusable water bottle and Mrs. Burnett’s famous homemade cookies.

“It feels great. I’m excited to eat these cookies,” Friedman smiled.

While Friedman already had a business idea before starting the entrepreneurship course, he said the lessons he picked up along the way will help grow Millmette.

He especially relishes the conversations he’s had with other business professions, such as Katie Degen, owner of Central Station Coffee Shop, and Avitia-Guzman, who he talked with for four hours.

“(The course) definitely gives you the opportunity to talk to so many people,” he said. “I learned so many things.”

Up next for Millmette is expansion into Evanston and Glencoe. And for StartUp U, Liz Mayer — executive director of the New Trier Educational Foundation — said the course keeps proving it is worth the investment by “providing students with tools to help them succeed.”

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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