Young innovators compete in entrepreneurial program

by | Aug 10, 2015

Local high school students discuss their concept during The Pitch, a summer entrepreneurial program organized by UMSL's College of Education.
The Pitch

Local high school students discuss their social media platform concept, Hear4U, during The Pitch, a summer entrepreneurial program organized by UMSL’s College of Education. (Photo by Jen Hatton)

Lenardo Scott has an idea for a theme park. He calls it Super Sports Experience, and it would be indoors and air-conditioned.

“There’s always an area getting shut down at Six Flags because someone gets sick from the heat,” explained Scott, a Normandy High School student. “We thought about building a place indoors where it’s cool, and you don’t have to worry about going to the hospital. When it’s too hot outside, I feel like I’m about to have a heart attack!”

Scott was among 30 high school students who participated in The Pitch, a summer entrepreneurial program organized by the University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Education. The program challenged teams of students to develop innovative business projects. They focused on solving real-world commercial and social problems, giving the students free range to test and refine their wildest ideas.

For example, the minds behind Mujji.Go, a high-tech app that would allow mobile device users to exchange battery life, aimed to keep customers from missing important calls. Students brainstormed inventions and business models with the aid of guidance and provisions from UMSL professors Keith Miller, Carl Hoagland and Janet Murray. In a partnership with Stifel Bank & Trust, the professors funded books, food, classroom supplies and guest lecturers for the event that took place July 31.

Creating an even stronger support network, Amber Bell-Christian, coordinator of the E. Desmond Lee Technology and Learning Center, connected with community outreach organizations Girls Inc., M.A.D.E. Moguls, and Boys & Girls Club St. Louis. Bell-Christian was motivated to build great extracurricular programs after recalling her experiences as a local high school student.

“I remember when I was in high school and moved from Normandy High to Hazelwood Central — it was a total culture shock,” she said. “I was an A student all my life, but when I transferred to central, it seemed like those students were learning things I never did. Since working with Keith Miller and Girls Inc., I’ve found my niche helping students excel through learning experiences that other students have access to all the time. I love making a difference.”

Nour Salmeen, a UMSL MBA graduate assistant, also lent her time, business expertise and mentorship.

“The students seemed to really enjoy the experience,” she said. “Aside from the intensive work schedule and occasional stressed looks, they were always reminded that this program was meant to be fun.”

Encouraged by a positive atmosphere and compassionate leadership, students were not afraid to tackle concerns close to home. The designers behind Hear4U, a social media platform that would allow greater contact with incarcerated loved ones, wanted to help families thrive through adversity.

“We came up with this idea because my uncle and our friend’s father are incarcerated, so we thought it would be a good idea to create a business that helps connect incarcerated people and their loved ones,” said Jamoni Richardson, a junior at University City (Mo.) High School.

Each team presented their ideas to a panel of judges in the format of a three-minute elevator pitch. Judges, including Miller, evaluated presentations based on a detailed rubric. Teams earned points according to the quality of their opportunity recognition, market research, financial operations, presentation skills and marketing plans. Beyond practicing valuable skills, students were able to win prizes such as Amazon gift cards, web design and professional photography. Prizes were provided by multiple vendors including CCS.

After presentations concluded, students were presented with certificates of completion and the celebration could not be contained. Young men and women high-fived, danced, and shouted joyfully. Ultimately, competition and winning prizes didn’t matter to Makayla Jones, a freshman at McCleur North High School in Florissant, Mo.

“I was very nervous when I was doing my presentation,” she said. “But once I was finished, it was like a sigh of relief. Showing the judges our project wasn’t even about winning anymore — it was about team work and supporting each other.”

The UMSL Experience

Ron Austin

Ron Austin