Student entrepreneurs recently earned thousands of dollars to pursue their product ideas as part of Pitch Night at the Entrepreneurship and Business Academy at Kempsville High School.
Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick said any business would be lucky to employ the talented, well-spoken students who presented their ideas at the “Shark Tank”-style event. She encouraged students to turn their ideas into businesses that would improve the economy and the way of life for all Virginians and Americans.
A year’s worth of schoolwork and planning goes into the annual event, where teams present business ideas and respond to rapid-fire questions from panelists such as Merrick and co-host Bruce Thompson, a farm laborer turned successful developer and CEO of Gold Key PHR.
Thompson started the night by preparing audience members and students to receive both encouragement and criticism from the panelists.
“We know as entrepreneurs that not every idea is a good idea,” he said. “We’re going to flat out tell them if they’re not ready and if they need to go back and work on their business plans.”
He followed up by shouting, “Let’s have some fun,” as cheers from the near-capacity crowd filled the school’s auditorium.
All 16 INCubatoredu teams from this school year pitched for the Entrepreneurship and Business Academy Board of Advisors in a preliminary round, which determined six teams that moved forward to the stage competition:
- Team Equipt pitched a natural-fiber gym bag that minimizes unpleasant odors.
- Beach Balm presented their insulated koozie that prevents Chapstick from melting in hot weather.
- Grip N Go sung the praises of an application that prevents slippery sports rackets.
- Bling promoted a box that helped athletes protect their jewelry.
- Elite explained how their app would help coaches keep their teams in top shape.
- CleatSkins praised a slip-on device that protects athletic shoes.
Students had no problem responding to most of the panelists’ questions, but there were also moments when they struggled to answer queries about wholesale costs and key performance indicators. Many of the teams performed creative skits to show the fun features of their products, triggering laughter from the crowd.
Three teams received the funding they requested: CleatSkins, $10,000; Grip N Go, $6,000; and Beach Balm, $3,000.
Thompson and Merrick said all the teams did a great job developing and presenting their products, and thanked their mentors, teachers and families for supporting the students.
In addition to the stage presentation, every team had a product table where they pitched their ideas before the formal event began. They also explained to visitors what it was like to work on a business concept with fellow academy students.
The process for each team begins with a lot of ideas that get narrowed down, explained Kelsey Salas of Team Beach Balm. Every good business idea addresses a common problem for customers.
“At the beginning of the year, we listed every problem that has ever annoyed us,” Salas said. “All of us said we hated how Chapstick always melts in the summer.”
Trusting the business process is key, said Coryn Sandler from Team Elite.
“We overcame a lot of obstacles, but eventually all of our ideas combined into something that worked,” Sandler said.
The winning teams will continue to work on their business plans in the year ahead. When in the future you’re about to buy a handy product from CleatSkins, Grip N Go and Beach Balm, remember that it all started at Kempsville’s Entrepreneurship and Business Academy.
Members of teams receiving funding:
- CleatSkins – Maddie Lane, Olivia Nichols, Madison Taylor
- Grip N Go – Grace David, Kennedy Hall, Alicya James Feliciano, Josie Scott
- Beach Balm – Brody Carranza, Furman Marshall, Rylie Branch, Kelsey Salas
- Bruce Thompson, CEO, Gold Key PHR
- Caren Merrick, Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade
- Monique Adams, executive director, 757 Angels
- Gilbert Bland, president and chairman, The Urban League of Hampton Roads
- Morgan Davis, founding director, TowneBank
- Kirk Galiani, founder and co-executive chairman, OneLife Fitness & US Fitness Holdings, LLC
- Drew Ungvarsky, CEO and cofounder, Assembly