Brownstown seniors involved in mentoring program after placing in state competition

Opportunities keep coming for Brownstown Central High School seniors Sarah Rollins and Sophie Kreis.

After placing third in the inaugural Innovate WithIN high school pitch competition, they are involved in a mentoring program to help market themselves and their product, Romantique jumpsuits and rompers, to a broader group.

They received $1,500 apiece, bringing their total to $5,750 since first presenting their product in the Jackson County Maverick Challenge earlier this year.

“We were very thankful for winning third,” Rollins said. “We thought that it was going to be really close. We are truly so thankful.”

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The competition, hosted by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, Indiana Department of Education and Ball State University, drew 86 online applications from more than 290 Hoosier students at more than 65 high schools.

Students submitted an idea for a business, product, service or other venture that helps identify Indiana as the best place to start and grow a business or sustain its economic momentum.

After completing video pitches and regional competitions, the nine finalists, representing nine different counties, were invited to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges from the entrepreneurial community during the state competition April 9 at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis.

Educaid, led by Colin Wareham and Jackson Ramey from Noblesville High School, was named the overall winner. They created board games to help Hoosier students learn business concepts like marketing and management. They received $10,000, one year of college tuition at a state institution, mentoring services and internship opportunities.

NetWork, led by Tiana Mudzimurema from Adams High School in South Bend, and Mini Mammals, led by Morgan Spade from DeKalb High School in Waterloo, tied for second and each received $2,500.

All of the finalists are receiving mentoring services through the StartEdUp Foundation, which focuses on engaging students and teachers through innovation and entrepreneurship in the classroom.

In partnership with the IEDC, StartEdUp created an accelerator program for the state finalists, helping them develop and execute their ideas and providing access to co-working spaces and the company’s network of mentors and advisers from Indiana’s entrepreneurship community.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick and Ball State University President Geoffrey Mearns were among those attending the state competition.

Rollins said she and Kreis needed to know more of their financials and meet the presentation time limit. They only had five to seven minutes, compared to 10 to 30 for the Maverick Challenge.

For the financials, they consulted with Michelle Schaefer of JCB.

“She really helped us understand why our financials were what they were, and it was a great help,” Rollins said. “We were both very confident because by that point, we knew exactly what to say. With the help of Michelle, we were definitely more confident in the financial aspect, which helped a lot, and we added a few more touches that added to our confidence.”

Before the state competition, they also had watched videos from the March 15 regional competitions.

At the Wilson Education Center in Charlestown, Trinity Lutheran High School sophomore Michael Claycamp was declared the winner, but he turned down advancing because it conflicted with him attending the National 4-H Conference in Washington, D.C. Rollins and Kreis, the runners-up, moved on.

“While all the groups did a great job, Sophie and I feel that our ideas were the most innovative,” Rollins said of the state competition. “That’s not us being conceited. We just think ours is the most fresh and helpful idea, if you will.”

A normal romper or jumpsuit has an elastic waistband and is attached, so when a woman has to use the bathroom, she has to take off the entire outfit. Rollins and Kreis used a jacket zipper and a belt at the front waistline to make it more convenient.

“We think that it is so awesome and crazy that it literally all started in our high school entrepreneurship class and we won the Maverick Challenge and (participated in) all these other competitions and it all came from a struggle that all women face,” Rollins said. “I think it is so great that Sophie and I could kind of voice these women and the problems with fashion and confidence and give them a solution.”

On April 23, they met their mentors via a video call.

“It’s crazy because our mentors are talking about getting us patents and selling our design to big names,” Rollins said. “As we move forward from this, we are connecting to so many different and important people, and these people are just great contacts to have and will benefit us in the future.”

Since the Maverick Challenge, Rollins said she and Kreis have done their presentation in front of an audience about 10 times.

They plan to use the money they have won for the business and for college.

Rollins said they are thankful for everyone who has helped them, including Robin Perry, their entrepreneurship teacher; Nina Hackman, Kreis’ grandmother who helped with design; Schaefer; Tammy Lewis; Spurgeon Insurance; Luke Nolting; Jackie Hill; their parents; and anyone else who has judged their presentations, given them advice or supported them.

They encourage other students to do the Maverick Challenge and Innovate WithIN competitions.

“Sophie and I just wanted to compete in the Maverick Challenge, and we decided that our junior year,” Rollins said. “Going into the class and competition, we didn’t even have an idea, but we found one and ran with it, and look at us now.

“We are so thankful for all the help and connections Mrs. Perry has given us,” Rollins said. “Without her, we wouldn’t have known about the Innovate competition, so we are so thankful for her and the competitions.”