CLEARWATER — At this graduation ceremony featuring some of the brightest local minds in tech, it was the youngsters who stood out.
The "no fear creativity" of a handful of local high school students participating in the Exploratory Lab Boot Camp impressed tech professionals and mentors alike. Thursday's graduation at St. Petersburg College of 15 participants marked the first time that the program allowed high schoolers in the mix.
"The high school students were no way imitated by the college students," said program coordinator Patricia Gehant. "The college students were in awe of the accomplishments of the high school students."
The Exploratory Lab Boot Camp is a week-long technology training program. Students participate in sessions geared toward teaching the latest trends and strategies in technology. They also learn about finance, marketing, and networking. Professionals from Tech Data taught the lessons.
"I never realized how integral networking is to improve your position in life," said Ryan Worthington, 17, a senior at Osceola High School.
A major component of the program was for two teams to create a business plan for a new idea. At the ceremony, the groups pitched their idea to a panel of judges. Flare, a safety device that attempts to prevent accidents between cars and pedestrians or cyclists, won.
The idea of Flare matured because one of the group members had been hit twice while riding his bike.
Laszlo Leedy, 17, a senior at Shorecrest Prep, said he encouraged his group to choose his idea over the other 20 they brainstormed.
"There needs to be this kind of device that can alert drivers that there is a biker near, because people are not as alert," he said.
In addition to lowering the number of collisions, Flare also hopes to save money for insurance companies.
The other team introduced a voice recording and storage program called Voice Versa. The app targets students, professionals and disabled individuals. The team pitched their program as a means to improve the way students study, how professional recall notes from a meeting, and assist the hearing impaired.
Flare, the winning project, received a Cisco solution sales training program. They also won three months of free training from Tec Garage, an incubator for tech start-ups. One of the judges Tonya Elmore, who is also Tec Garage's president, sponsored the reward.
Other judges included tech leaders around Tampa Bay: Sable Davis of Forsythe Technology, Chuck Egerter of Eagle Datagistics, Walter Besler of Open Partnership Education Network at USFSP and Earl Gehant of Gehant & Associates.
Diversity of degrees and backgrounds is important to find strong solutions today's business problems, Patricia Gehant said.
"We want to release students from following a syllabus and chasing a grade," she said. "We give them the knowledge. Then they take it and apply it. There is no syllabus in the workplace. You have to get into the flow of the river and find a way to thrive."
Contact Tierra Smith at tsmith@ tampabay.com or (414) 702-5006. Follow @bytierrasmith.
An earlier version of this story online gave an incorrect name for the Voice Versa project.