Written by Dana Krems
Vying for one year of free tuition at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, 11 high school students competed in the third annual Midwest High School Pitch competition held in Hyland Hall on Feb. 27.
As the only event of its kind in the Midwest, the competition drew 58 applicants from Wisconsin and Illinois. Seven finalists traveled to UW-Whitewater for the live "Shark-Tank"-style event. Each individual or team had six minutes to present their idea and business model to a panel of judges, who asked follow up questions, evaluated the presentations and provided feedback.
Trent Hernandez of Delavan-Darien High School won first place and a free year of tuition with his pitch for InflataFLAP. He was inspired to improve on prosthetic attachment technology after Delavan-Darien football coach Henry Johnson, who died in October 2018, had shared the challenges he had with his lower leg prosthetic. Along with two student partners, he has connected with more than 350 amputees to develop a product allowing an amputee to attach their prosthetic more quickly and comfortably thereby increasing their quality of life.
Hernandez was thrilled to win the competition and free tuition.
He shared, "I chose UW-Whitewater because it has an amazing business school and that is what I want to pursue in college. Winning the competition and free tuition was icing on the cake."
Reflecting on his achievement, Hernandez stated that his student partners at Delavan-Darien High School have been essential to ideation and development. He was also grateful for encouragement by his technology education teacher, Michael Rick, and mentorship through the Geneva Supply BizTank program.
He added, "The experiences I had through BizTank-especially the podcast and TankTalk experiences-helped prepare me to speak in front of the judges and crowd in Hyland Hall."
Other finalists included Camille Simmons of Monona Grove High School, Margaret Mroch and Meghan Mertes of Elkhorn Area High School, and William Bethard of Fort Atkinson High School, who won second, third, and fourth places, respectively. Placing fifth through seventh were Karson Quevillon of DC Everest Senior High; Guinivere Hausser, Kora Lathers, Nolan Urish and Cameron Davilla of Rock County Christian School; and Hailey Kiser of Pewaukee High School.
Dave Gee, UW-Whitewater entrepreneurship program coordinator, stated, "We are incredibly impressed with the caliber of startup ideas we are seeing from these high school applicants. The competition provides them a real-world opportunity to formulate their ideas into real pitches in front of real investors-just like Shark Tank. Two of the startups this year actually received offers for funding from an angel investor before they left the competition!"
First launched by the UW-Whitewater Collegiate Entrepreneur's Organization in 2017, the Midwest High School Pitch competition was developed to foster creativity, innovation, and solution-orientated thinking within high school students. The event also highlights the nationally acclaimed entrepreneurship major within the College of Business and Economics.
The UW-Whitewater CEO chapter's mission is to inform, support and inspire college students to be entrepreneurial and to seek opportunity through enterprise creation. This successful student organization offers access to invaluable resources, such as the UW-Whitewater Launch Pad and UW-Whitewater Incubation Program, as well as exceptional entrepreneurial education and networking experiences.