Last Thursday 95 high school students from 6 different Northeast Indiana schools converged on the University of Saint Francis for the 8th annual Youth Entrepreneurship Symposium, co-sponsored by USF and the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center.
In less than a day, small groups of students brainstorm customer needs, invent a new product, build a business concept around it, and pitch their ventures. The day is fast paced, hands on, loud, and fun. It doesn’t hurt that we pay the top three places (and the most innovative) with Best Buy gift cards (the Best Buy Community Fund, by the way, has issued NIIC a grant to help defray expenses and schools’ transportation expenses – thanks!).
Students start by brainstorming customer needs. Each year, the product we invent is something oriented toward customers their own age. This year we simply said, “Invent an app – Facebook, iOS, Android, any or all platforms – but make your venture around an app.” In past years students have invented a music player, “not your father’s cell phone”, and a video game player.
The product / venture concepts are always creative and innovative. This year’s winner designed a Skype-like video chat app embedded into Facebook. Students have to get the judges attention with a 30-second elevator pitch to make the finals, and then are given three minutes to pitch their concepts in more detail.
Over the past eight years, a few thousand students have proven to themselves an undeniable fact – each and every one of them can invent a product and build a venture concept!