HAMMOND — They prepared all year for this. In their engineering design and development class. In front of the School Board. They practiced their pitch to anyone who would ask, and when the time came to present their bicycle safety concept in front of an experienced panel of local entrepreneurs, the team of Hobart High School seniors was ready.
“Did you know that one-third of all Americans bike either for sport, leisure or transportation?” Hobart High School Senior Faith Spencer said, opening her team’s presentation. “Of those 100 million bikers, 54 percent claim a fear of getting hit by a vehicle.”
Before four experienced entrepreneurial leaders in Purdue University Northwest’s Alumni Hall, Spencer, along with classmates Andrew Romes and Alex Termini, presented a simple solution for change — a bluetooth-enabled sensor attachment that alerts bikers to passing vehicles.
Their innovative concept demonstrated at the Innovate WithIN regional competition earlier this month catapulted the trio forward into the state competition in April — with a chance to win $10,000 in start-up funding.
The goal of Innovate WithIN is simple. In a three- to five-minute pitch, high school students make the case for why their original business plan or innovation is worth investing in. Winners at the district level walk away with a $1,000 prize and a chance to compete for the state title in Indianapolis.
The competition, in its second year, also connects the high school participants with local middle schools to spark their own interests in problem-solving innovations.
The Hobart trio’s product, RearVue, seeks to improve bicycle safety through its cost-efficient bike sensor attachment that can, through a phone application, notify cyclists of vehicles passing from behind.
The RearVue team was among seven other groups that presented March 7 at PNW, bringing with them solution-driven ideas — some with personal inspiration.
Andrew Sliz, of Hobart High School, presented a concept for a social networking application called The Friends Around You that allows users to share selected tidbits about themselves in real time to create more natural first impressions. Sliz said the app was inspired by his own shy nature.
Wyatt Decanter, also of Hobart High School, and his partner, Angelina Bisone, presented an EZ Brush product, inspired by his family’s own medical history of tremors. Earp said he tested the product, a toothbrush with built-in toothpaste, with his grandma’s help, looking to ease the trouble squeezing tubes with shaky hands.
“Even if I don’t win,” Earp said before the judge’s deliberation, “I want to finish for her.”
Judges provided feedback for each group directly after each presentation, giving advice on financing, presentation technique and marketing strategies. Then they took about 10 minutes to deliberate and select a regional winner and runner-up.
The victorious RearVue team took careful notes of Judge Mont Handley’s advice to increase the valuation of their product after demonstrating a functional model.
Handley would know — his patented soil-less plant growing solution earned him a $1 million investment from billionaire investor Mark Cuban after an appearance on the ABC reality show, "Shark Tank."
As Northwest Indiana district runner-up, Gavit High School senior Shamari Walker is entered in a wildcard competition for entry in the state-level presentations. A video of his regional pitch — along with those of all other Indiana district runners-up — will be available next week on the state’s Innovate WithIN website for voting.
The district runner-up with the most votes advances to participate in April for a chance at the competition’s $10,000 scholarship.
Walker pitched his existing technology company, AscuniaTech, which offers web development and support services for individuals and local businesses.
His message for the young entrepreneurs who attended: don’t give up.
“It’s going to be hard at first,” Walker said. “Whenever you’re ready to give up, just remember why you started.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly identified EZ Brush inventor Wyatt Decanter. The Times regrets this error.