Making a pitch

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By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
Westland High School seniors Omar Abdi, Brandon Vargas and Haley Hall took first place at the district’s third annual Pitch Night for their business concept SolCase. The students in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship program said SolCase is a solar powered cellular phone case that is capable of charging batteries and providing protection against damaging drops.

The four high school teams vying to take top honors in the business concept competition known as Pitch Night were prepared to fail.

It was not that they wanted to, mind you, it was just that these 14 seniors have become accustomed to the prospect since joining the Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at the South-Western City Schools District.

“Our ideas get shot down a lot,” said Westland student Brandon Vargas.

For instance, Vargas and his fellow classmates Omar Abdi and Haley Hall have been trying to perfect their business concept of a solar powered cellular phone case that is capable of charging batteries and offering protection against damaging drops.

In their quest for product betterment, they reached out to several companies that they believed could offer sound advice or even help them create a physical product. They were rebuffed at every turn.

“It was a bit discouraging,” said Hall.

“It’s like adults don’t want to take you or your idea seriously,” said Vargas. “All we wanted was some feedback and most didn’t even give us the time of day or respond to our emails.”

Through the lessons laid out in their program, the trio knew the importance of pushing through with your idea, and it was not just because they were being graded on the product and their business acumen.

“It was something we believed it,” said Vargas. “We just had to keep adapting until our idea became viable.”

In addition to wanting to score a top grade in their class, they also wanted to earn the right to compete at the state level with their idea, which they did earlier this year.

“They placed seventh in the state,” said Kevin Peters, a business and technology teacher.
With that accomplished, they set their sights on Pitch Night, an event where a panel of business professional determine which top team from each of the high schools had the best potential for a business startup.

“Unfortunately at this point, the winners do not get a financial reward or internship,” said Amy Schakat, the district’s coordinator of career technical education. “Just school bragging rights.”

Though most admit they would have liked a contract for their business concept, they agreed bragging rights was enough for now.

“We all want to win for our schools,” said Savion Golden, a senior at Franklin Heights.
The first presentation was from Ashigan Ali, Brittany Hanson, Luis Olivo and Jose Martinez at Central Crossing who pitched an app called $.M.A.R.T (or Saving Money, Assisting Reliable Tips). According to the team, the app helps people track how much money they make, how much they can spend, and how their money could be better managed.

The second presentation was from Golden, Kianna Jackson and Shareka Jones who pitched a product called Grease Glove. According to the team from Franklin Heights, the “lightweight silicone glove” is meant to protect fast food workers from getting “popped by grease.”

“As you can see, it’s a big problem,” Golden said, pointing to all of the Band-Aids covering his arms.

The fast food worker said he is tired of getting splashed by grease and his team’s market research indicated the same.

“Eighty percent of the people we interviewed said getting popped by grease was problematic.”

He said this glove did not negatively affect the tasks of the workers and added that it was good business practice to wear them.

“It would cut down on worker’s comp.”

The third presentation was from DJ Neff, James Marvin and Blake Sahr from Grove City who pitched UpNext Sports Camp, a database which allows young athletes to connect with sports camps that best fit their abilities.

Marvin said they are just focusing on local camps at this time but have received excellent feedback from sports camps who were interested in their budding product.

“There are millions of young athletes out there looking for the right camp to go to,” he said. “Our product would put them in touch with the right fit for them.”

The last presentation was from the team at Westland who pitched SolCase, the solar powered cellular phone case that would be made from recycled parts.

“Our product will be very eco-friendly,” said Hall.

After all of the pitches took place, the judging panel said they had a hard time determining the best business concept.

“They were all so different and presented so well,” said Dr. Heidi Stevenson. “I think they all deserved to win.”

Schakat said she too was impressed by the ideas from the students.

“There was a lot of variety,” she said. “In the past there have been a lot of apps pitched – which is a great thing – but these teams had products that seemed more personal to their lives and their challenges.”

Ultimately, only one team could be chosen as the winner of Pitch Night and that was the team from Westland.

“We’re really excited,” said Vargas. “It’s a great feeling to know that other people like your idea.”

Their win marked the first time a team from Westland has received the top honor at Pitch Night (Grove City won in its inaugural year; Central Crossing the following). Schakat said she hopes the recognition and friendly competition will propel more students to take an interest in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship program.

“It really is one of the district’s more unique career pathways,” she said. “They are taught that there is no right way or wrong way to create a business concept and it allows them to be free to fail, so to speak.”

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