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ITHACA, NY – It went a lot like the popular television show Shark Tank –  cool products, polished pitches, and high stakes as aspiring entrepreneurs stated their case for funding before a panel of judges.

Eight student teams from Ithaca High School (IHS) each spent several weeks developing the concept for a new engineering design, conducting market analysis, refining a business plan, and preparing a funding pitch with PowerPoint slides and, in some cases, hands-on prototypes.

Then, last Thursday, December 17, the teams presented these pitches before a  distinguished four-member panel, including Dr. Luvelle Brown, Superintendent of the Ithaca City School District; Tim McCabe, Chair of the Entrepreneurialism Department at TC3; Sean Reid, Dean of the Ithaca College School of Business; Zack Shulman, Director of Entrepreneurship@Cornell.  More than $2000 in real funding for further product development was at stake.

The teams went in various innovative directions with their products – a stand-up vehicle for people with limited mobility (called UNO, short for “up-and-out”); the Disco Buggy, a propane-fueled demonstration buggy; a small hydro-powered device for charging electronic devices in the wilderness; a controller for electric vehicle motors; an automated control device to raise and lower plastic greenhouse covers; a sweat-suppressing glove for video gamers; a mobile app packaging multiple popular games together; and a high-performance dustpan.

All eight teams received at least partial funding for their projects.  Three received the full amounts requested, including UNO ($375), the hydro charger ($350). the Disco Buggy ($320), and the electric motor controller ($300).

IHS students make a pitch. (Photo courtesy Superintendent Luvelle Brown’s Twitter.)
IHS students make a pitch. (Photo courtesy Superintendent Luvelle Brown’s Twitter.)

“Pitch Night” is part of the Engineering Design and Development (EDD) course at Ithaca High School.  Taught by Scott Breigle and Ian Krywe, EDD is the capstone course in Project Lead The Way (PLTW), a five-course sequence of engineering classes.  Students who perform well in PLTW courses can receive college credit from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

PLTW and EDD give students both experience and challenges that they don’t get in other courses at the high school.  “Mr. Krywe and I begin the year by letting the students know that this class will be different than any other class they have taken,” says Breigle.  “We emphasize with the students that should not look at us as teachers but as a facilitators for their groups.”

IHS was an early adopter of the PLTW curriculum in the late 1990s, but Pitch Night was created only in 2014.  It is the brainchild of Illa Burbank, the President of IthacaSTEM Advocates, an affiliate of the Ithaca Public Education Initiative (IPEI).  Burbank created Pitch Night based on her own experience with the capstone course in the MBA program at Ithaca College, which involved similar entrepreneurial pitches.

Burbank has spearheaded fundraising for Pitch Night in both 2014 and 2015.  Sponsors of this year’s included Cornell Engineering, Tompkins Insurance, Cabrera Research, Tompkins County Area Development, CFCU Community Credit Union, and other donors to IthacaSTEM Advocates. Burbank also connected the teams with expert mentors from Cornell, IC, Advion, Taitem Engineering, BorgWarner, Cabrera Research, the venture capital company Greengage, and the business incubator Rev.

“Pitch Night illustrates the amazing things that students can accomplish, even in just a few short weeks since the start of school.  It gives them a unique way to apply their classroom learning to real-world situations.” says Burbank.  “It also shows the power of collaboration with the community.”

Below is a full list of the participants:

Team Name

Team Members

Mentor

Product

Award

UNOJames Guidi, Marcus Haider, Amanda Pfaff, Ezra Sarachan, K.P. SinghRoger Simpson, BorgWarner (retired)Three-wheeled vehicle for mobility-impaired users, with optional sit/stand position$375
Hillside HydroHunter Hartshorne, Jasper WhiteBrian Bauer, RevSmall hydropower charger for devices, to be used by backpackers$350
Disco BuggyOliver Armstrong-Davies, Jake Barnett-Hill, Aidan Evans, Ronan Perry, Kenzo UchigasakiBeth Mielbrecht, Taitem EngineeringPropane-fueled demonstration buggy$320
Evolve ControllersAdam Newhouse, Liam Pfaff, Zachary StillmanAaron Proujansky, GreengageController for electric vehicle motors$300
Hi-Tunnel-TechAidan Galloway, Ian StatemaKen Rother, eLab, Cornell UniversityAutomated control device for raising and lowering plastic greenhouse covers$240
BencedenDaniel Barden, Silas Hoffstaetter, Benson WuJamey Jones, AdvionSweat-suppressing glove for video gamers$200
Game Room AppP.J. Finlay, Zach JorgensenDerek & Laura Cabrera, Cabrera ResearchApp integrating multiple popular games, with single-player and multiplayer options$125
Flawless DusterSteven Carman, Patrick Hoyt, Rory SimpsonBrad Treat, Cornell University, Ithaca College, and RevHigh-performance dustpan$100

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.