High school students from Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties highlighted their ambitious business ideas to local educational and corporate leaders Wednesday at the inaugural Innovators Showcase.
Junior Achievement Tampa Bay, a nonprofit that prepares students for economic success, organized the event. The recently created Innovators Showcase, held at Raymond James’ Carillon campus, featured 3DE students from Dunedin, Chamberlain, Hillsborough and St. Petersburg High Schools.
Patrick O’Connor, senior vice president for Raymond James, announced the Take Care team from Dunedin High was the first Innovation Showcase champion. Co-founder Arlen Martinez shrieked with joy before becoming overwhelmed with emotion.
“The fact that this is a school project connected to that kind of outburst and emotion is just like – this is what it’s all about,” said O’Connor after the event. “It’s creating this connection that these kids want to succeed; they want to compete.”
According to its website, the 3DE program “re-engineers education to be more relevant, experiential and authentically connected to the complexities of the real world.” Through the national curriculum, 11th grade students spend a year developing a viable product, service or business.
About 120 local high school juniors – many started the program in ninth grade – showcased their work Wednesday. Corporate partners selected the top teams, who then pitched their startups to judges from Raymond James.
Pinellas County Superintendent Kevin Hendrick noted participants came from typical public schools and received valuable skills to help them succeed post-graduation.
“They’re going to be leaders in our community for the next 35 to 50 years,” Hendrick added. “And these businesses are providing that, so it’s awesome.”
In addition to Raymond James, those businesses include ReliaQuest, PNC, Jabil, Power Design, TD Synnex, the Hough Family Foundation and several other prominent organizations.
When announcing the winning team, O’Connor noted the judges split due to the strength of the four finalists. They eventually decided on Take Care Cosmetics, a business that offers self-care gift boxes that include “all natural” body butter, lotion and a candle.
Cyniah Green said she and her teammates came up with the idea as they endured test-induced stress. She said teenagers and young adults are their target audience, and they wanted to help them feel refreshed after a long day of work or school.
Martinez noted she screamed as soon as O’Connor pronounced the “duh” in Dunedin and expressed her pride to see the culmination of her team’s year-long efforts. Cameron Walsh credited the tough competition, who “looked so good and intricate.”
“I’m glad that our hard work on the pitch, all of our practice, our struggles, stress and brainstorming was all put to a good cause,” Walsh said.
However, the experience paid dividends for all participants, and the Big Deal Automotive (BDA) team relayed how they are now expanding their mobile detailing business.
Paige Spurlock said BDA began with two St. Pete High students detailing vehicles for nearby friends and family and now travels to Clearwater and Seminole. She handles marketing and said the 3DE program helped them become an “official business.”
“It’s provided me with a lot of new skills that have definitely increased my productivity in school and outside of that,” Spurlock said. “It helps with my future – talking to professionals, talking to people – my professionalism has got much better.”
Not all of the teams started businesses. St. Pete High students also started Grades for Goodies, a nonprofit organization. Ursula Michaelis said the goal is for guidance counselors to identify unmotivated or struggling students and reward them for improvement.
Unlike similar programs, participants can receive X-Box controllers and gift cards, or similar “things that they actually want.” Community and family members donate money or unused gift cards to support the initiative.
“When I came into it, I didn’t really know any business skills or how I would create a program like this,” Michaelis said. “And they really taught us throughout the years that we can make anything possible if we put our minds to it.”