High schoolers pitch the products of tomorrow at entrepreneur camp | News

Kiara Jackson, Samantha Harris and Kayla Seals stood in front of Lowder Hall room 110 on Friday, facing a group of their peers from Birmingham City Schools.

“The problem is, at school, children can’t eat hot meals from home,” Jackson said. “There’s an average of one or two microwaves in school cafeterias. When everybody’s sharing a microwave at a school cafeteria, the lines are very long. So your children can’t get to the microwave fast enough to get to their seat and back without missing lunch.”

“Well, we have a solution, with the Microbox,” Harris chimed in. “It’s a lunchbox that your child can warm up their food in.”

The three girls were part of the Junior Tiger Cage Entrepreneurship Camp held this week at Auburn University. The camp, hosted by the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business, was a weeklong experience for ninth and tenth graders who learned about creating and pitching a product.

Friday, the 15 students who participated presented their ideas to their parents and a panel of three judges, who asked the young entrepreneurs questions about their product and evaluated their presentations.

Learning the ropes

“It was an intense week,” said Lakami Baker, managing director for the Lowder Center for Family Business and Entrepreneurship. “We did educational activities about entrepreneurship. We did brainstorming activities. We taught them about doing market research, competitor analysis, and then to work on their financial system.”

Campers also met with an admissions counselor to learn about the process for applying to Auburn. They went on a field trip to Auburn Escape Zones, to meet with the business owner as well as working together as a team to break out of one of the escape rooms.

But the focus of the week was on the ideas generated by the students themselves. The campers divided themselves up into five groups of three to identify a problem, create a product that would address the problem, market it and present it to their peers and the judges.

Judges were Opelika photography business owner Tanisha Stevens, Kerry Chandler from the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation, and David Ketchen, research director for the Lowder Center at Auburn.

Stacey Nickson, director of Auburn’s Center for Educational Outreach and Engagement, co-created the entrepreneurship camp. This is the camp’s second year.

“She was already engaged in entrepreneurship camps, but Auburn University’s outreach program was not offering (one),” Nickson said. “I was looking for someone who would do an entrepreneurship camp, and she was looking to extend the work she does to kids who are not in the mainstream, or kids who are underrepresented. So we came together, because I had the underrepresented kids, and she had the entrepreneurship camp.”

Putting a plan in action

The camp was free for students, as it was paid for by Gear Up, a federally-funded Department of Education program.

“I have worked with K-12 youth for 30 years. I believe in their creativity, especially students who have had to live a life in which they perhaps have had to be creative. But what gets me really excited is that they have now been taught to create a program around their creativity,” Nickson said. “So it’s not just about, ‘I have a great idea.’ It’s ‘I have a great idea that I can articulate and that I can bring to fruition, because I know how you put a business plan and a business model together.”’

One team, consisting of students David Jackson, Sy Starr and Makayla Rutledge, pitched a headset they called Pro Connections, Inc. They would market the product to construction workers, as the hands-free devices would fit on hard hats and eliminate the need for walkie talkies on a construction site.

“The only competition we would have are walkie talkies and cellphones, because those are the only two devices that are used on construction sites,” Jackson explained as the students shared that their proposed headset would make construction sites more efficient and possibly safer.

Nickson said the campers exceeded her expectations with each of their ideas and their demonstrated ability to problem-solve collectively.

“We’re not saying we’re trying to make everybody in here an entrepreneur,” Baker said. “What we do want is for them to develop some type of entrepreneurial mindset, meaning that instead of complaining about some of the things that they see, we want them to take action.”

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