A crime-fighting alert bracelet that looks like a smartwatch. A simple way to sanitize toilet brushes. A solution for those stinky kitchen sink sponges. A fail-safe system for tidying messy drawers.
These were among the winning ideas submitted by 20 Missouri youths who participated in this spring's Young Entrepreneur Pitch Challenge — a collaboration of the Missouri AfterSchool Network, Missouri 4-H and the Young Entrepreneur Institute in northeastern Ohio.
Contestants ages 5-17 were challenged to propose an idea for a business that would solve a problem they had identified and pitch it in a short video. A panel of University of Missouri campus and extension faculty, graduate students and community entrepreneurs judged the pitches on overall quality, creativity and persuasiveness. Seven winners were announced at a May 18 celebration ceremony via Zoom.
At ages 8 and 12, Anna and L J Temple are already serial entrepreneurs — their basement in West Plains has been an incubator for many inventions. L J keeps a journal of all his ideas, including "extensive sketches" for the Brush and Plunge, his winning pitch. The BAP merges a plunger and toilet brush into a single device along with a container and cleanser. His prototype BAP is a modest version of a complex device he envisions, similar to a refrigerator filter, that would automatically remove impurities.
"We did our best with what we had," the Howell County rising seventh-grader said. The inspiration? "One of my chores is to clean the toilets, and the brushes just gross me out."
Like her brother and fellow Shark Tank devotee, Anna was inspired by a weekly chore and recognition of a skill she could put to good use for others. Missouri's Marie Kondo Mini-Me, Anna values a well-organized drawer and has perfected her technique arranging the family snack drawer after weekly grocery store runs.
"People just dump stuff in their drawers, it overflows everywhere, they can't ever find what they need, and then they don't have anywhere to put new things they get," Anna said. "It becomes a very large problem" — a problem she would like to help her neighbors solve. "I can see this turning into a very successful business."
From the time he started playing his first video game around age 7, Devin Elkins always had ideas for how to improve the game, the equipment, the experience. Then he found himself analyzing shoes the same way — tinkering with ideas to improve design, support, comfort, performance. For the Pitch Challenge, Elkins, now a rising senior at Jennings Senior High School in St. Louis, chose to address a community challenge. Building on a project he and others developed in an internship program last summer, Elkins proposed an alert bracelet that sends out a distress signal to nearby law enforcement to help combat crime and violence in his community.
"The idea was to create something relatable that would help your community," Elkins said. "This is something anybody could use in a dangerous situation. And this is very relatable in a community where people struggle with the effects of violence."
WINNERS AND FINALISTS
Ninth- through 12th-grade winners
Devin ElkinsJennings High School 21st Century Community Learning Center Afterschool ProgramAlert Bracelet
Sixth- through eighth-grade winners
L J TempleHowell CountyBrush and Plunge (BAP)
Benjamin FoulkesColumbia Area Career CenterSchool Bus Tracker
Hannah AyersPettis CountyCrocheted Chickens
Sixth- through eighth-grade finalists
Zachary AyersPettis CountyHandmade Candles
Zoe BealBoone CountyOE Knits Hand Dyed Yarn
Ellie SamekPolk CountyPopcorn
Zoe EngelbrechtLafayette CountySew Into It!
Anna AhrensCape Girardeau CountyYeast Feast World Bakery
Hannah WrightPettis CountyHandmade Items
Kindergarten through fifth-grade winners
Anna TempleHowell CountyDrawergenizer
McKenna MackeyHickory CountyClean Country Critters
Chloe BealBoone CountyChloe Creates Dog Accessories
Kindergarten through fifth-grade finalists
Asher AhrensCape Girardeau CountyCentipede Sensations
Jolie BealBoone CountyJoJo's Snack Bags
Kasen AhrensCape Girardeau CountyMinion Market
Garrett SamekPolk CountyFishing Opportunities
Chloe KraemerJefferson CountyButterfly Tea House
Audrey EvansClinton CountyPoultry Production
Judd LawsonCedar CountyPac-Man Pancakes