High school entrepreneurs pitch business ideas for $20,000 in funding


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Five teams of high school entrepreneurs hope to finish the school year with a major payday, as they pitch their business ideas Friday for a chance to win $15,000 from a panel of judges, plus an additional $5,000 awarded by the audience.

The third annual pitch competition at Westlake High School features groups formed in the school’s business incubator, a class designed to challenge students to identify problems and come up with startup ideas to solve them.

The year started with 24 teams; four are finalists for the pitch competition, and five more will compete for a final wild-card slot.

“We’ve got apps, we’ve got services, we’ve got physical products,” Jeff Nixon, the entrepreneurship teacher, said. “They just kind of run the gamut of any type of problem that the students feel needs to be solved.”

The problem one group identified is one facing young women everywhere. “Imagine this: You’re out with your friends after a long week of tests and preparations,” Kennedy Griebel began the practice pitch Tuesday. “You go to the bathroom and come back, and you left your drink unattended. Now you have a problem.”

The solution they came up with is a sticker that attaches to the back of a cell phone and is coated with chemicals that can detect the presence of date rape drugs. “Once a girl introduces her finger to her drink and then to the sticker,” Griebel said, “it’ll change colors if a date-rape drug has been introduced.”

The team, comprised of five Westlake juniors, calls the idea SipSafe. There are other products on the market that can detect drugs used to make women vulnerable, but they believe a sticker is easier to conceal, easier to use discreetly and big enough to be used many times throughout the night.

SipSafe is not in production yet, but the team says they’ve worked out the science with the help of advisers Nixon brought in throughout the year. 

Working with experts and mentors in business, law and finance is a key part of the entrepreneurship class. SipSafe’s mentor has gone above and beyond, the team said.

“She has been committed to helping us and raising funds if we don’t win this award,” Tian Dong, another SipSafe team member, said. “And even if we do [win], raising the extra funds to help our business get launched.”

Another finalist team wants to solve a problem they see on social media — boring, redundant Instagram photos.

The group came up with Fraimless, an idea centered around creating and building interactive art installations to serve as backdrops for Instagram photo shoots. Team members know other companies exist to do the same thing (such as this one KXAN explored during SXSW this year), but “it was all pink and bubbly and ice cream and didn’t really appeal to what we might post on our Instagrams,” team member Abby Rose said.

They feel they can differentiate themselves by providing a wider variety of event options. “I think all of us would love to be doing this for quite a while and to see this company grow,” Rose said.

They’ll get that opportunity if they win the pitch competition. In addition to the money, the winning team receives an invitation to continue developing the idea next school year in the school’s business accelerator class.

Last year’s winner, an app called GameTime Live, went through the accelerator process this year. The app makes watching sports more interactive, allowing users to make predictions about the outcome of individual plays, like whether someone will make the shot. Users can win money based on their predictions.

That team is comprised of graduating seniors now, and Nixon said they plan to continue building out the idea in college.

“I’m excited for them that they get to take something that they learned in this class and make it real,” he said.

That’s the opportunity all the finalists are seeking Friday. The other two finalists are a biodegradable straw made from hay called Straw One and Giving Tree, an idea focused around “social impact investing” in trees.

The competition starts Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Westlake’s performing arts center. Tickets to the competition are free

If SipSafe wins, they plan to roll the product out to sororities first. The team has already approached two sororities at the University of Texas at Austin and they were interested in using the sticker.

“And then by the end of graduation senior year,” Griebel said, “we’re hoping to sell our business to a national chapter of a sorority.” That way, they can roll it out to every chapter on every college campus.

They wouldn’t have gotten this far in their mission to protect women, she added, without the help of the business leaders who’ve offered guidance and the community members who put up the money for the pitch competition prize.

“At the end of the day, we’re teenagers trying to run a business,” she said. “It’s not the most important to go out and help, but it’s definitely been amazing.”

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