Some of tomorrow’s entrepreneurs are making their first business pitches through a new program at a local private school.
The Steward School in Henrico kicked off its new entrepreneurship program for students in grades nine through 11 with a pitch contest earlier this week.
A panel of local businesspeople served as judges for the event, including Michael Bor, founder and CEO of auto dealer CarLotz; Tanya Cummings, cofounder of staffing firm Momentum Resources; Joel Erb, founder of tech firm INM United; Stacy Struminger, founder of clothing line Rainraps; and James Xu, CEO of e-cig manufacturer Avail Vapor and executive vice president of retailer Plow & Hearth and distributor Evergreen Enterprises. Local business consultant Andy Stefanovich was a featured speaker.
The “Shark Tank”-style contest saw students pitch products ranging from removable outsoles for sneakers to anti-tangle zippers for headphone wires to a wearable buzzer meant to remind people to check their posture. The students worked on their pitches over the course of one week with Steward faculty member Shane Diller.
In the end, junior Amanda Wang, a Chinese exchange student, was awarded first place and a $200 gift card prize for her Zippods product, which judges decided was the most immediately marketable. The judges also offered to meet with all of the contestants to discuss their products further.
Dan Frank, head of school at Steward, described the event as a catalyst for the school’s entrepreneurship program, in which students can participate in activities and lessons that would lead to an entrepreneurship endorsement on their diploma.
“The reason that we think entrepreneurship is important is because entrepreneurship is the nexus between traditional learning and modern knowledge,” Frank said.
“All the things that they’re learning to get ready for college – algebra, geometry, physics, biology, English, history – all those things are still massively important, but there’s a whole set of modern knowledge that’s now important,” Frank said, listing off such skills as robotics, coding, design thinking and systems thinking.
“This is applied modern knowledge for us to have in the entrepreneurship program, and this (event) really takes us to the next logical level.”
Frank said program activities this year include pitch presentations from Richmond-based startups, a visit to a Fortune 500 innovation lab and involvement with this year’s Virginia Venture Summit.