A guitar that teaches 6-year-olds how to play? A door knob bracelet that flashes red lights to warn deaf people of a fire in the next room? A robotic arm that entertains cats with a laser pointer when no humans are around?
After each group of entrepreneurs made their pitch, wild snapping ensued among the audience and drowned out a crying baby and noisy ventilation system. This was no ordinary pitch event. The entrepreneurs, some dressed in suits and bow ties, aren’t even old enough to drive. Welcome to Guppy Tank, a modern twist to the traditional science fair project. Think Shark Tank but for middle school students. About 25 eighth graders from Denver’s KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy competed Tuesday night inside the shiny, new Galvanize building on Platte Street. The grand prize? $7,500 to help take their invention to the next level.
Students spent 12 weeks working with business mentors and Dan Harrison, founder of the non-profit Guppy Tank (and no relation to the for-profit one). Harrison, CEO of UpFront Technologies in Denver, said his organization “works exclusively with middle school students from low-income, under served communities.”
Led by the school’s 8th grade technology teacher, Jonathan Best, the teams stood in front of friends, family and teachers to demonstrate their prototypes, talk about the market potential and discuss costs and pricing during their 5-minute pitch. They would be judged on clarity, originality and their presentation.
“We know pets are man’s best friend, but you may not have time to spend with them. So this will help you play with your cat,” said Kevin Barrera, from Team LASORS, which built a base for a laser pointer that moves on its own to entertain cats.
They’re hoping that the contraption, built with server motors and open-source Arduino software, will become an “impulse buy” and sell between $10 to $15. If they win the big money, they’ll invest in stability and a smaller product.
Snaps all around. (“Students give ‘snaps’ in class when they are cheering on a teammate or showing appreciation, said Julia Sevy, KIPP Colorado’s development associate.)
But as to the success with cats, as one judge inquired, Team LASORS reported it hadn’t tested the product on animals. “We don’t have cats,” one team member said.
Well, getting to this point is a start. Even companies selling real products could use more cat testing, like this similar one with a one-star review because it was “Too noisy. Cats won’t go near it.”
KIPP students still have plenty of time to perfect their pitches.
In the end, judges awarded Team LASORS $4,000 and first place. The Bobby Pin Dispenser team came in second and received $2,500. Guitar Kings, which pitched the teaching guitar, came in third and won $1,000.
Organizers expect this to become an annual event and will likely work with KIPP students next year.
“Dan’s goal is to expand the program to work with students from even more schools serving a high population of low-income, underrepresented students,” Sevy said.