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Young entrepreneurs shine at Innovators Showcase

Mark Parker

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St. Petersburg High School students Shelby Sublett (left), Avery Lehman (center) and Elyse Malm react to their "Funancial" platform winning the 2024 3DE Innovators Showcase. Photos by Mark Parker.

High School students from Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties enthusiastically highlighted their startups – and a registered nonprofit – to local business leaders Wednesday at the second annual Innovators Showcase.

The entrepreneurial-minded 11th graders hailed from St. Petersburg, Dunedin, Chamberlain and Hillsborough High Schools. Those were the first to offer Junior Achievement (JA), Tampa Bay’s rapidly expanding 3DE program.

The Innovator’s Showcase, again held at Raymond James Financial’s sprawling Carillon campus, culminates in a pitch competition. Patrick O’Connor, divisional director, said selecting a winner was more difficult than any business decision he would make that day.

“How many academic experiences do you see where people are cheering and emotional and really pulling for each other in the way you saw today?” O’Connor asked. “Our long history with JA has been full of exciting moments. But I have to say, what we’re doing with 3DE has got to be the most exciting thing we’ve seen in our partnership over a long, long time.”

Patrick O’Connor, senior vice president of Raymond James, announces that Funancial placed first in the pitch competition. Nicole Jones (far left), a St. Pete High School teacher, celebrates with the team.

O’Connor also stressed the importance of promoting financial literacy at an early age. The winning team embodied that sentiment.

St. Pete High School students Avery Lehman, Elyse Malm and Shelby Sublett took home first place – and a new Apple Watch and AirPods – for their “Funancial” platform. Program participants must identify a problem they plan to address before embarking on the year-long project, and the group realized their peers and siblings lacked financial literacy.

Lehman described Funancial as a gamified financial education app. The free subscription provides “basic knowledge,” and users can pay for more advanced training and features.

Malm said the app would help teens manage their finances when they go off to college and enter the workforce. Sublett credited the 3DE program for teaching her how to pitch an idea.

“I learned how to present; I learned how to work with technology, and we also learned how to work with companies,” Sublett added. “It gave me a lot of necessary skills.”

Not all the young innovators showcased started businesses. Another St. Pete High group established a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Eva Jalbert-Norris, Elyce Mairn and Jeffrey Winger launched Teen Talk to help combat the rise in teenage mental health issues and mitigate the stigma surrounding counseling and therapy. Jalbert-Norris said college psychology majors with internship requirements serve as counselors.

Mairn said college-aged counselors better understand the issues they face. “You almost feel like you’re kind of being written off as just another teenager who’s struggling with body image depression,” she added.

Jeffrey Winger (left), Elyce Mairn (center) and Eva Jalbert-Norris founded Teen Talk, an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Mairn said licensed therapists could use their time assisting the nonprofit as a tax deduction. She also highlighted a list of the free program’s local corporate sponsors.

Jalbert-Norris said she and Mairn were fortunate that their families could afford therapy, “but that is not the case for a majority of the students that go to our school.” The goal is for incoming upperclassmen to continue and expand Teen Talk once its founders graduate.

JA launched 3DE at two high schools on each side of Tampa Bay in 2020. Gibbs and Tenoroc (Polk County) High Schools joined in 2022 and will participate in the 2025 Innovators Showcase.

Lakewood, Blake and Jefferson High Schools entered the 3DE fold in August 2023. According to its website, the program “re-engineers education to be more relevant, experiential and authentically connected to the real world.”

Most participants start as freshmen and develop a viable product, service or business once they reach 11th grade. Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, expressed his staunch support for the program at Wednesday’s event.

Dunedin High School student Elijah Lyles founded LS Suits. He plans to continue selling and renting discounted formal attire after graduation.

Steinocher said the Chamber offered 3DE office space in its headquarters to increase business engagement. In addition to Raymond James, prominent program partners include ReliaQuest, PNC, Jabil, Power Design and the Hough Family Foundation.

“What we saw today – what we see every time we do this – is they’re (3DE students) learning how to solve the problems we’re creating for them,” Steinocher said. “My vision is that every high school in Pinellas County has this program. Because this is the future.”

Christina Roberts, executive director of 3DE, noted that Raymond James offered to host a second Innovator’s Showcase immediately after the inaugural event concluded. She said the program has proven to foster real-world problem-solving skills.

Roberts said teachers evaluate participants across “six critical competencies,” and students show academic improvement and increased engagement in 9th and 10th grade. “You could read what the State of Florida and the workforce desires, and those are exactly the skills we’re building,” she added.

“3DE allows students to develop the skillset, mindset and behaviors to thrive in the world of work – in any industry.”

 

 

 

 

 

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