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Riverhead students pitch business ideas on ‘Chamber Tank’

The Riverhead Chamber of Commerce and Riverhead High School are teaming up to produce “Chamber Tank,” a variation on the popular TV show “Shark Tank.”

Students can pitch business proposals to business owners in the chamber, some of whom are Riverhead High School alumni.

The students have a chance to win cash prizes of $500 and possibly more, according to Bob Kern, the president of the Riverhead Chamber who will also serve as a coach.

The competition is virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s like ‘Shark Tank’ for students,” Mr. Kern said. “Entrepreneurs make presentations to successful people to try and get them to invest.”

Board member Dean Del Prete first suggested the idea at a chamber meeting. He’s a founding member of Cousins Paintball as well as an owner of Long Island Sports Park, both of which are in Calverton.

“I blurted out at a meeting that we should do something like ‘Shark Tank’ and everyone said it was a good idea,” Mr. Del Prete said in an interview. He later put the idea in writing and sent it off to Mr. Kern and chamber executive director Liz O’Shaughnessy and to school officials.

Mr. Del Prete got to be the first chamber member to go before the kids on March 10.

“It was awesome,” he said. “We really didn’t know what to expect. It wasn’t so much about proposals as it was about mentoring and coaching the students.”

Diana LaSpina, a business teacher at the high school, said the students and school community are “extremely grateful” for the opportunity work alongside the chamber.

“We are so excited to be having weekly coaching sessions with local business leaders,” she said. “This is an excellent partnership and we are looking forward to building a great relationship with the Chamber of Commerce.”

Mr. Del Prete said he never went to college and never had a job where he was working for someone else, other than family members.

“I had my own business at age 18,” he said.

Glenn Vickers, the owner of MRV Group, LLC in Riverhead, coached the students March 17.

“It was great,” he said.

The students asked questions about how to take a concept or an idea and turn it into a reality, he said.

“They had questions about capital or about understanding the market,” he said. “It’s great to have an idea, but do you understand your market or if there is a market for your product?”

The students meet their coach each week on Wednesdays.

“Students can form their own groups or come up with an invention, or they can help with a business plan and create a business,” said Mr. Kern. “We’re getting businesses engaged with the school. It’s really been a fun program.”

In addition to Mr. Del Prete and Mr. Vickers, other Chamber members who will coach the students are Tommy McFeely of Hot Yoga in Carle Place and Merrick, who is also a sales agent at Panache Real Estate; Frederick Wilkinson, the owner of Eco Clean Pressure Washing and Spray Foam Insulations in Riverhead; Diont’e Brown, the owner of She’s Pretty Rare Boutique, as well as a photographer and web designer; Joanna Messina, the public relations and marketing manager for Hampton Coffee Company; and Mr. Kern, who is the owner of 2X2, LLC, a marketing and branding consulting company. He’s a member of Riverhead Town’s Industrial Development Agency and Agricultural Advisory committee, and he’s a candidate for Town Board in the fall.

Mr. Wilkinson, Ms. Brown, and Ms. Messina are all graduates of Riverhead High School.

The coaching sessions will all be done virtually and the project presentations will be done via livestream on April 27. An awards ceremony will be May 11 at the Residence Inn on Route 58, according to Ms. O’Shaughnessy.

The competition is being sponsored by M&T Bank; Riverhead Building Supply; East End Divorce Planning; KL Wealth Strategies, LLC, Mr. Wilkinson and the Residence Inn LI East End, Ms. O’Shaughnessy said.