Local students make finals of Innovate WithIN competition

Only 10 projects were chosen from the nearly 30 submitted for the Innovate WithinIN Region 2 regional entrepreneurial competition.

Three of them were from Jackson County high schools.

Seymour High School junior McKenzie Bailey and seniors Emily Hume and Maria Lara Lopez presented on Prioritize, Trinity Lutheran High School junior Michael Claycamp presented on Aquapon LLC and Brownstown Central High School juniors Trey Hackman and Clayton Barger presented on GreenWorld Drones.

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While none of them were chosen as the winner to move on to the state competition, the students considered it a great honor to present their business pitch March 5 at Mid-America Science Park in Scottsburg.

Innovate WithIN is an initiative hosted by the Indiana Economic Development Corp., Indiana Department of Education and Ball State University. Elaine Bedel, president of the IEDC, said it empowers Indiana’s young entrepreneurs to draw upon their creative thinking and problem-solving skills to develop, execute and present an idea for a business, product or venture.

This was Claycamp’s second year competing. In the inaugural year of the competition in 2018, he was one of only two competitors at regional, and he won and advanced to state.

“Last year, I had the goal to win to help fund the system,” he said. “This year, I have already achieved my funding goal, so I was presenting to practice my public speaking and to help advertise myself and Aquapon.”

When he presented last year, he said it was on a 2,000-square-foot closed aquaponics system. This year, he said his idea changed a little, as he found the correct design that will work, a decoupled aquaponics system so he can store back waste. It is a five-stage filter system with a radial flow, biological, media, sump and 2,160 lettuce sites.

Two big differences with Innovate WithIN this year were eight more teams at regional and only having five minutes to present. Competitors had 10 minutes in 2018.

“I felt like I did extremely well in the competition and was in the top places, but I did not place,” Claycamp said. “This might be because I was not completely ready for only five minutes to pitch. The judges also didn’t have much agricultural background, and I feel this might have played a role.”

Claycamp said he had positive takeaways from the experience.

“I take away from this competition that I will need to practice more on my five-minute pitch,” he said. “I also learned that people remembered me and my idea from last year and that I helped give a bright outlook on teen entrepreneurs. To be chosen as a finalist in the Innovate WithIN competition for the second year gave me more motivation and hope with future business competitions.”

Even better, he said his business idea is coming along extremely well and the system will start soon.

“To start, we will be operating just one of the two greenhouses and one fish tank,” Claycamp said. “Once we get that half of the system running at 100 percent, we will start operation on the other half. With current outlooks and predictions on the system, we have a rate of return in less than one year.”

Bailey, Hume and Lopez were a team this year and last year for the Jackson County Maverick Challenge, which is another type of business planning competition. They decided to present their concept for Prioritize for that and Innovate WithIN.

The time management app for cellphones and computer devices would be designed for the student lifestyle, Bailey said.

“It would combine all of your schedules into one, so my work schedule, my athletic schedule and I could input my homework, school schedule,” she said. “Then it would take those tasks and it would prioritize them into matter of importance. It would alert me if I overbooked myself or if I didn’t put in enough time for my family.”

Bailey said she did a lot of the research for the concept and even reached out to an app developer based in New York City.

“I listed everything that I wanted the app to do,” she said. “I worked with him, and he gave me the price estimates. We would have to hire out the app developer for different software.”

For their presentation, the girls also created a video that showed a busy student trying to get all of her work done and how the app would help her.

“I think it was a little bit of a new concept,” Hume said. “The content was already out there with Google Calendar and other calendar apps, but ours would combine all of that into one that you couldn’t get with another app.”

While the team didn’t win the competition, they received good feedback from the judges.

“As we were leaving, one of them actually talked to us and she told us, ‘Don’t let this die. It’s a great idea. I really like it,’ just hearing reassurance that your idea is actually probable,” Bailey said.

Hume said since they had presented together before, they weren’t as nervous.

“Last year, it was more nerve-racking because it was your first time, and this year presenting in front of Maverick Challenge and Innovate WithIN, it’s just a different experience presenting in front of your peers,” she said.

Lopez said it was good to be chosen for regional after receiving honorable mention in the Maverick Challenge.

“After we did it, it was like, ‘Oh yeah, it was a good idea that we actually took this risk and went ahead with it’ because we actually went and made it to regional,” she said. “The way that we interacted and the way we worked together was special because we haven’t known each other for that long, and the way we (work with) each other, it’s natural, it just flows.”

Business teacher Dawn Jones was proud of the work the team put in for Innovate WithIN. On the bus ride to Scottsburg and while there before presenting, she said the girls practiced a lot. Plus, they took notes on what they liked about other presenters and how they could improve their skills.

“They were phenomenal. I was almost in tears watching them present,” Jones said. “They were so refined. They knew what they were doing. I had not seen, even on the college level, the type of commitment that I saw with this team, so it was kind of a fulfilling moment for me, as well. Even though they didn’t get a title of winning first place, they were still hugely successful in my eyes.”

After submitting video pitches for the first round, more than 65 teams were selected to demonstrate their entrepreneurial ideas at regional competitions. Regional winners each received a $1,000 cash prize and qualified for the state competition April 4 in Indianapolis.

The 11 teams vied for the chance to win a $10,000 cash prize, $10,000 toward a year of in-state tuition, internship opportunities and mentoring services.

Vincennes Rivet High School seniors Cameron Klein, Colten Mouzin and James Hancock were chosen the winners for their pitch on LyfePack, a backpack with a solar bank that has the ability to charge a phone, laptop and a tablet simultaneously.

It was created so students with electronic devices could charge on the go, and it would be constructed primarily of kevlar, which is a bulletproof, stabproof and fire-retardant material.

The students hope to get the device patented.

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For information about Innovate WithIN, visit innovatewithin.org.