Three months after receiving almost 500 startup pitches from high school students, Startup High School has narrowed its pool to 70 semifinalists, all of whom gathered for an “Entrepreneurship Field Day” in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
Innovatrium, a local consulting firm, hosted the event in its downtown Ann Arbor office.
Startup High School, now in its third year, is run under the umbrella of MPowered, one of the University’s flagship entrepreneurship-focused student organizations. Startup High School will help winning applicants prepare to launch their own project pitches.
Business sophomore Ovijit Datta said roughly 200 more high school students submitted pitch ideas this year, due in part to the fact the expansion of Startup High School’s advertising. The organization previously only catered to Detroit-area schools — this year, however, it appealed schools in areas including Metro Detroit, Grand Rapids and Battle Creek.
Datta and other members of Startup High School visited numerous Michigan schools and delivered guest lectures encouraging students to submit to the competition.
Datta explained that the workshop was meant to provide a learning experience for the semifinalists, who will now be allowed to re-submit their original pitches with their “field day” lessons in mind.
Saturday’s event consisted of several guest speakers, a presentation at the headquarters of the business accelerator Ann Arbor SPARK, a tour of Google’s Ann Arbor offices and workshop activities for the students.
Bill Mayer, SPARK’s vice president of entrepreneurial services, spoke to the high school students about the pros and cons of entering the entrepreneurial field.
“I find it very valuable to present to people that are in high school,” Mayer said. “They’re thinking about their college choices, and if entrepreneurship is something that they’d really like to explore as a career choice after they graduate, having a university with a good entrepreneurship curriculum is very important.”
Mayer said joining a startup tends to yield a meager salary. However, he added that recent college graduates are often eager to work on startups because they provide a unique environment with a direct connection to an issue those students care a great deal about.
“It’s a very nice path,” he said. “The earlier we can start, the better.”
After the presentation at Ann Arbor SPARK, the high school students were given a campus tour of the University, followed by a visit to Google’s Ann Arbor office, where Ed Lee, an employee of Google for Entrepreneurs, reminded the high school students that even Google was a small company at one point, but became a thriving, multi-billion-dollar corporation through innovative ideas.
After the presentation, the students were invited to interact with one of Google’s newest products — Google Cardboard. The toy is a simple cardboard box that, when fitted with a smartphone and special application, create a virtual reality experience.
At the end of the day, students split into startup-related workshops led by members of Startup High School. One group, for example, discussed the importance of networking in developing a product.
Another group focused on product marketing. In this group’s main activity, students were given an amusing object and were then tasked with creating a series of selling points for it. Among these objects were a coconut bra and a pair of rainbow suspenders.
Among the semi-finalists was Evan Morton, a senior at Detroit Edison Public School Academy in Detroit. He said that he came to the event to re-evaluate his pitch and to get some outside help.
“They had a lot of useful information, especially breaking off into the workshops,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade this for anything. It was very valuable.”