Impressing the sharks: Boyle teens pitch products in competition modeled after popular entrepreneur TV show

Published 10:28 pm Friday, December 9, 2016

A case for spare hitches,  heated earmuffs, a lawn and home care service, a vehicle detailing service, a kit for archers, a podcasting service, a special kit for matches and a special compartment for gun stocks — these are the ideas that a group of Boyle County High School students have turned into real business proposals over the course of one semester.

The students got their opportunity to pitch their products before a panel of local businessmen and businesswomen in a local version of the famous “Shark Tank” television show Thursday.

“It’s a detailed process,” said David Christopher, teacher of the entrepreneur class at the high school.

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Christopher said the students have learned along the way that it’s OK to tweak their ideas as they go — in fact, it’s encouraged.

That was one of the biggest lessons of the day for student presenters: deciding what advice from the panel they wanted to consider as they moved forward with their projects.

“They are young bright minds, full of ideas, full of energy,” he said. “All have good ideas.”

A winning team will receive a $1,000 scholarship for college, to be split among the team members, and some of the teams will receive money from the panel to be used to help their business grow once they get started.

The winning team will be announced at a later date, said Paula Fowler, director of the Danville-Boyle County Chamber of Commerce.

Students have to invest their own equity in their projects, Fowler said.

One of the teams, Andrew Dean and Christian Reeves, pitched “Muff Kingz,” a pair of heated ear muffs. Judges said they may provide a $650 investment if the product gets off the ground.

Initially, Reeves said, they considered something relating to drone photography, but it wasn’t long before they settled on the idea of heated ear warmers. With the help of his sister, Dean said he sewed the project himself.

They tweaked the idea right up until the night before the presentation, when Dean created a new prototype.

Another product pitched was the “Hitch Holder,” a project from Tucker Kilby, Hanna Harrison and Riley Cocanougher. The panel offered a $600 investment once they get the business going.

Fowler said some of the students in the past had been successful in getting their businesses growing.

“About 85 percent of growth comes from small businesses,” Fowler said.

The teams were matched with business mentors who worked with the students for one to two hours a week for the past six to eight weeks as they developed their business model, Fowler said. Students created prototypes to show the panel of investors and established a plan for future growth.

Students also met with lawyers, accountants, worked on web design and developed business cards as they progressed.

It’s the fifth year for the program in the county, Fowler said. It began as the Boyle County Young Entrepreneur Academy. Fowler is working to get the program at the Danville High School, too.

Christopher said he plans to encourage the students to enter their projects in Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton’s Entrepreneurship Challenge, open to students in grades 9-12. The regional competition will be in mid-April, with the state competition on April 29. More than $80,000 in scholarships are available for students who compete.

“These were amazing ideas,” said Brad Simmons, one of the judges. “That doesn’t happen every year.”

Follow Kendra Peek on Twitter, @knpeek.