NEW PORT RICHEY — For Taylor Townsend, it was time to take her shot — five minutes to pitch an idea along the lines of the television show Shark Tank.
"How many of you have children?" Townsend, 17, asked the panel of three judges in the school media center.
Then came a horrific laundry list of facts about children who have died of hyperthermia while left strapped into car seats in hot cars.
"This is a very tragic thing, and you see it happening a lot," Townsend said. "I want to find a foolproof way to prevent that."
Her solution: Safe Ride, an adaptable car seat alarm that would synch with existing technology in today's automobiles. Similar to the workings of an air bag, a sensor would engage with the added weight of a child sitting in a car seat. Turn the ignition off, and an alarm would ping, alerting the driver about the child in the back seat. Should the driver miss that cue and leave without removing the child, depending on the car's internal and external temperature and the length of time the engine had been shut off, the horn would sound, lights would flash and the electric windows would roll down.
While Townsend didn't yet have a prototype to present, the research she touted, along with an energetic presentation, paid off with a first-place win and the opportunity to compete for up to $2,500 in the final Pasco Young Entrepreneurship Competition on April 25 at Land O'Lakes High.
"I think she actually has a viable product," said judge Krista Covey, director for the Pasco Economic Development Council's SMARTStart Business Incubator, as she tallied scores with fellow judges Tammy Schwarz of Bluelink Consulting and Sam Paladino of Pasco-Hernando SCORE, which offers free assistance and seminars for local start-ups and small businesses.
Townsend is one of several students enrolled in the business and entrepreneurship principles program to compete in school-level competitions, held April 3 to 10 at six county high schools. Students earned points for professionalism, the viability of their enterprise and their ability to back it with research on start-up costs, revenue, distribution, customer base, competitors and the business and/or social impact of their venture.
"It's a great opportunity. I really learned a lot through this," Townsend said, adding that while she initially tried to avoid taking the required course, she's now thinking about hiring an engineer to bring her idea to fruition.
The competition is a collaboration among Pasco schools' Office for Career and Technical Education, CareerSource Pasco Hernando, the Pasco Education Foundation, the Pasco Economic Development Council, the Stavros Center at the University of South Florida and SCORE.
Other ideas included a water-resistant hydrofuge seat cover, by Devin Gallo, 17, and Corbin Moore 17, that would make car spills easier to wipe up, and a handy beach caddie prototype, pitched by Anthony Barber, 17. Sara Haynes, 17, drew on her vegan lifestyle to promote Greenhouse Cafe, a fast-food restaurant that would offer clean food and biodegradeable plates, napkins and cutlery.
"This is truly what we would go through when we have a client who wants to open a business," Paladino said. "For their age group, I think they did super."
The contest enhances Pasco County schools' budding entrepreneurial program, utilizing a variety of skills — collaborative education, creative thinking, problem-solving and research — said Terry Aunchman, the district's director of career and technical education.
"We're teaching students to think outside of the box, solve problems and hopefully instill confidence," Aunchman said. "I hope this gets kids doing things they would never think of doing, maybe something they could actually profit from."
And, he said, "The teachers are really having a good time of it."
"This hits all the points they would want to pitch to get financing — it's real-world experience," said Stacy Hill, River Ridge High Business Management and Analysis Academy teacher and sponsor of the school's Future Business Leaders of America club.
Hill is a big proponent of the program. After attending two days of training with other teachers at the Dade City SMARTStart Business Incubator, she became a facilitator for the CO.STARTERS program in Wesley Chapel, an experience that will help her lead the business department at Cypress Creek High in Wesley Chapel, which is scheduled to open for the 2017-18 school year.
"Kids need different avenues. Not everyone is going to college or university," she said. "Even if they don't become entrepreneurs, they are getting business knowledge and information under their belt."
Contact Michele Miller at [email protected] Follow @MicheleMiller52