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‘Teenpreneurs’ stage own version of ‘Shark Tank’

GENOA – Ten months of work came down to a 10-minute pitch for 13 students this week at Genoa-Kingston High School.

Three teams of students in teacher Ben Owen’s entrepreneurship class presented original business plans Tuesday before a panel of community judges in an event patterned after TV’s “Shark Tank,” in which investors hear pitches from entrepreneurs and decide whether they want to buy in.

This event was the final project for the INCubatoredu curriculum, a year-long program adopted in 2016.

“Students tackled everything themselves,” Owen said. “The whole process, beginning to end.”

Each team found a problem and designed a solution, such as the Change Maker, a device used to organize loose change in a customer’s pocket. This process involved forays into business concepts such as financial projections, business-to-business marketing and customer surveys.

One group, the Dust Finesser team, had already begun product demonstrations at the local Ace Hardware store.

“Seventy percent of the people we pitched to were interested in the product,” senior Anna Hansen said.

Their product? A sticky roller that attaches to a customer’s broom, designed to pick up that last stubborn line of dust and residue left behind while sweeping. Their matching T-shirts proudly displayed their logo and their hashtag, #finesseyourdust.

Another team’s idea addresses the difficulty of finding products for farm animals with Farm Box, a subscription box filled with brushes, halters and treats from a local bakery.

“The prototype is for a goat,” Matt Collins said.

The treats were a late addition; each team showed their product to prospective customers and made changes based on their feedback.

Inside the auditorium, Owen outlined his thinking.

“Instead of learning theory, the students learn by doing it,” he said, “and get real feedback from business professionals.”

Although this is the program’s third year, it’s the first to offer a $1,000 cash prize for the winning team. This prize was funded by local businesses, and the team members can either use it for college expenses, or invest it back into their business.

“We’re a small town, but the community has been so supportive,” Owen said.

In true “Shark Tank” tradition, the judges didn’t go easy. They asked questions about manufacturing techniques, potential audience segments and shipping costs.

The event concluded without a winner being named – it will be announced in the days ahead.

But the skills that all of the students developed in the process will help them succeed, said Kristin Brynteson, who mentored one of the teams and seemed as excited as the students were.

“They’re building a skill set that so many adults don’t even have,” Brynteson said. “They learn how to work as a team, to gather and use data, and to just talk to people about their projects.

“Not just to give a speech, but to really pitch it.”

Because of past successes, Owen is working on a sequel class, Entrepreneurship 2, which will allow students to patent their products, secure investors and launch their businesses.

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