Six Lessons Learned From a High School Student Entrepreneur

MichelleNewPhoto2Highlights from a chat with Dominik Skorynko, INCubatoredu Alum and Founder/CEO of Skoryknko Media Group, and his INCubatoredu teacher, Shannon O'Connor.

Dominik Skorynko grew up around family members with an entrepreneurial mindset. Before immigrating to America from Poland, he witnessed a business mindset in his uncle, who owns a successful printing company in Poland.  After immigrating to America, his father started his own construction company, and his mother has always been inclined to find innovative ways to earn income.

A non-traditional business course became a start-up playground and the catalyst of entrepreneurial skill development for Dominik, a former INCubatoredu high school entrepreneurship student at West Leyden High School in Northlake, Illinois.  This exposure to the methodology and practices of entrepreneurship within a 'fail-friendly' environment, combined with the examples set by his family, led him to launch his own business while studying film at Columbia College. He is currently working part time at his former high school in the Communications Department while attending college. 

We sat down with Dominik and his INCubatoredu teacher, Shannon O'Connor, to listen in on a conversation between to two as Dominik reflects on key lessons he has learned thus far in his entrepreneurial career, and how INCubatoredu (and his teacher!) helped him get where he is today.


1. High school can be relevant to the real world

How would you describe the course?

Dominik: INCubatoredu is beneficial and very valuable for students because it’s such an innovative way of learning, because you’re actually doing what you’re learning. And you're not just reading a textbook and taking a test; you’re actually developing an idea and practicing real-world skills.


Was there a skill you developed that you weren’t expecting?

Dominik: I definitely didn't come into this class expecting to become a mobile developer.  At one point, I had an app that was running, and it worked! I tinkered around with coding every once in a while in some other classes here at Leyden, but this class gave me the opportunity to really pursue coding as it related to my business.  

The app had Near Field Technology (NFT), where it is similar to Apple’s ‘tap to pay’ technology, but I couldn’t get it to scale. But I can now see myself in the future having an app business. Because of this class and my exposure to practically doing a tech startup, maybe I’ll do it in the future. It’s something that piqued my interest and I wasn’t expecting it at all.


Was your INCubatoredu mentor an inspiration for app development?

Dominik: In my first year in the INCubatoredu program, my mentor James was a developer who had a relationship with Grubhub™️. He helped me establish the right mindset to have a tech startup. Because it’s not the same as the traditional brick-and-mortar business. It’s a lot more fluid and all over the place. He walked me through it and gave me the right ideas and mindset throughout the development process to get the app and business model rolling.


Talk about your first business idea at INCubatoredu. 

dominik (2)Dominik: My first business idea was Card Assistant. It was a digital wallet for business cards and sharing basic contact information, kind of like a LinkedIn™️, but more one-to-one and real time, like for sharing contact information at a convention. Ultimately, I didn't secure funding in the early stages, and I couldn't continue building at a reasonable rate of progression due to not having enough money at the time.

That’s when I pivoted to working on my own professional development and earning certifications that put me on the path that I am right now—running my own business.

2. Being comfortable is not entrepreneurial.

What did you learned from INCubatoredu about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?

Dominik: What I learned was that to be successful, you need to take risks, and you have to get out of your comfort zone. Being comfortable is not entrepreneurial. It doesn’t really get you anywhere. You need to get out of the status quo so that you actually learn from missteps and not let them drag you down to the point of giving up. It’s those who learn from missteps versus letting them 'take over' who succeed, at least in my eyes.


3. Don’t be afraid to quickly shift direction.

What's important as a founder - what would you tell entrepreneurship students?

Dominik: I think as far as being a business owner, an important skill to have would be knowing when to pivot and not be afraid of change. There are many times where I've seen other businesses fail because they refuse to pivot and they don’t recognize a pattern where if they pivot, they could succeed. Even if you’re not going to succeed from that first pivot, it’s going to get you further down your path where maybe yet another pivot will get you where you have to be.


Can you think of any pivots you've done in your business? I wanted to start a production company in Chicago where we produce films. But at the moment, I'm still in school, and I have a part-time job, so it's hard for me to do it all!  My current business is providing services in website design, marketing, material creation, photos, and video, and I work on films whenever I have time. 


4. Networking and socializing are essential, even if you’re quiet.

Dominik: I do a lot of cold calling and cold emails—just talking to businesses and giving them tips and suggestions on how to fix issues I spot. But a lot of my work is through referrals with local businesses that I have good connections with. There’s a local IT company that brings in a lot of website work, so it’s word of mouth right now. But, I’m hoping to expand my own marketing and advertising.


Would your high school ‘self’ be okay with cold-calling?

Dominik: Absolutely not! In high school, I was super quiet. I mean, I’m still quiet, but when it’s a business situation, I just flip. I connect with people through conversations and networking to see how I can help them and how they can help me.


5. Change can lead to new opportunities.

What will you still be carrying with you from Incubatoredu ten years from now?

Dominik: The idea of change is going to stay with me. That’s one of the most important things I got from the program—is being able to accept change, and look forward to change!  In about five years I imagine myself outside of school and creating a fund to help creatives produce what they want to in the Chicago area. My focus is making sure that other youth will be able to tell their stories. 


How are you building this fund?

Dominik: My creative fund is a recent idea. I’ve started implementing ideas into my current strategy and how I want to bill clients. I’m going to start looking for outside investors as well.


6. The Importance of Giving Back

Dominik Skorynko was inspired by his teacher, Shannon O’Connor, who gained a reputation throughout her life for connecting others to the right path of career exploration. He wishes to follow her example, especially now that he is employed part time with West Leyden High School. In his role, he directly connects with students who are experiencing the entrepreneurial journey and many of the same challenges that Dominik has overcome. While working in the Communications Department at West Leyden, Dominik also plans to volunteer with the INCubatoredu program. 


Educator Perspective:  Important skill-building regardless of path

2021.Dominik.SHANNON.West.Leyden.-1"INCubatoredu is different from your traditional business class because of the community. My students always love when a coach or mentor comes in. It gives them a chance to hear different perspectives. Students hear about jobs or career paths they may never have thought of. That real-life exposure is the best thing to come from this class."

"Even if my students don't go on to be entrepreneurs, they have been exposed to lots of different aspects of the business world." I had a student freshman year, and she was very shy, very timid. She told me she was nervous to talk to and in front of people, and she wanted to go into the medical field. But I said, even though you're not going into business, I think this class is what you need. I want your confidence [and public speaking skills] to grow. She listened to me and took INCubatoredu. She became the main presenter by the end of the course for her group. [INCubatoredu] is going to help her future medical career, no doubt.”

~Shannon O'Connor, INCubatoredu Teacher

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