Students in Penn Hills, Munhall thrown into 'Soaring Shark Tank'
Some middle school students were thrown into the “shark tank” last week as they pitched business ideas to a panel of “sharks” and competed for winning concepts.
The inaugural event organized by the Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship, dubbed “Soaring Shark Tank,” was based on ABC's reality TV series that has budding entrepreneurs pitch business ideas to industry titans.
The end-of-school-year event, held May 23 at the Comfort Inn on Rodi Road in Penn Hills, had 14 sixth- through eighth-grade students pitch inventions and business ideas to a panel of five Pittsburgh-area business owners and community leaders.
Eighth-graders from the charter school and Steel Valley Middle School in Munhall competed for scholarships, or seed money, and the top winner received $100. Runners-up got $75, $50 or $25. Judges looked for products or services that “will solve a real-life challenge, impact society or offer a solution,” according to a charter school news release.
Some students presented their ideas alone, while others teamed up. Each presentation was made before an audience of around 160 peers, parents and teachers.
Nora Brennan, 14, an eighth-grader from the charter school, presented an alternative to the noisy alarm clock. Instead of being startled awake, the Smellarm emits a pleasant aroma to “create a better way to wake up, stay up and promote safety and happiness for all.”
Her idea won her the first prize of $100.
Madison Hickman, 14, also a charter school student, created Comfy Cozy Chairs, or C3. The chairs, which she plans to market to school districts, can be customized based on a student's needs. Her idea won second prize.
“I read an article about how kids are more focused in school when there are more comfortable seats,” Hickman said. “One day I thought, ‘I'm uncomfortable with these chairs.' So I decided to do this.”
Other winners included charter school student Danielle Chaves and a team of seven students from Steel Valley Middle School.
After each presentation, sharks had the opportunity to ask questions and offer suggestions.
Anne McGuirk, a panelist, suggested students learn coding after a team presented wearable tech that matches clothes with jewelry.
“Learning how to (code) would make it easier and quicker to start getting this out there,” McGuirk said.
Tamara Thomas, principal of the Penn Hills school, said the back-and-forth discussion between students and panelists is what the event was all about.
“Our entire mindset is to expose our scholars for a life of leadership. That's who we are,” Thomas said.
Starting in sixth grade, she said, students start to brainstorm business ideas. In seventh grade, students are expected to construct a working “elevator pitch” for their ideas so that in eighth grade they fine-tune them into a business model they can pursue.
Terri Williams, the school's innovation specialist, said she works to connect with area business leaders who can mentor students. She hopes this year's shark tank event will attract other schools to participate in the project meant to get students thinking like entrepreneurs.
The event aligns with the public charter school's educational model, known as MicroSociety. According to its website, the Philadelphia-based nonprofit aims to equip students to succeed in the global market. The model is being used in 300 schools across the country.