Innovation takes center stage as Las Vegas’ Herron Elementary students pitch inventive products

Innovation takes center stage as Las Vegas' Herron Elementary students pitch inventive products

Tuesday, March 26, 2024 | 2 a.m. From the fanciful to the practical to the poignant, students at Herron Elementary School in North Las Vegas have a lot of ideas for products that improve everyday life. The “Swimming With the Big Fish” contest brings those ideas out. Taking its name with a nod to the popular business-pitch TV show “Shark Tank,” the contest, a program of Junior Achievement of Southern Nevada, encourages budding entrepreneurs to explain to a panel of judges why their innovation would be worth an investor’s time and money. This isn’t an engineering contest, and investors aren’t actually putting up cash to launch a startup; no products will actually be manufactured. This is a thought exercise and dream incubator that nurtures the intangible — confidence, persuasion, thinking big and articulating those big ideas. Courtney DeZonia, elementary education coordinator for Junior Achievement of Southern Nevada, notes some children say their dream is to not live in the family car. “It’s just planting those seeds — you can build a financially stable future,” she said. Several local schools participated in Junior Achievement’s “It’s My Business” entrepreneurship curriculum this year, but only Herron took the added step of presenting students’ ideas to adult judges. With models, sketches and slideshows, they put their best feet forward Thursday. Junior Achievement teaches financial literacy, work and career readiness to young people nationwide. On the matter of “Shark Tank,” cohost, investor and all-around business mogul Mark Cuban participated in Junior Achievement as a youth. Herron’s entire fifth grade participated in “Swimming With the Big Fish.” Out of about 25 small groups, the judges chose three to give additional coaching so they can give more polished pitches next month at a luncheon at the Fontainebleau. The top three also win scholarships. “When we ask them what inspires their ideas, a lot of it is from personal experiences,” said Elizabeth Delgado, a Junior Achievement of Southern Nevada board member and a private wealth adviser. She said students seemed especially interested in technology, pets and products that are useful for helping with their little siblings. That showed in the finalists: a scratching pad for dogs to file their nails, a cup for babies that pops out food like a Pez dispenser, and a necklace that sends out a location signal and squirts a stream of pepper spray when the wearer is in distress. “Sometimes I walk alone from school,” said one of the necklace’s creators, a girl in a green dress named Beatriz. “Sometimes I don’t feel safe.” A panel of Junior Achievement volunteers — friendly “Sharks” — judged students on their entrepreneurial ideas and presentation skills. They encouraged students to research whether their product or service would be wanted or needed, how it’s different from existing similar options, how much they would need for production, and what they would charge for it. Delgado said the students were challenged to come up with something that didn’t already exist, but was realistic enough that with the resources could go to market. Other potential products included a desk with an integrated computer, a drone that plucks trash from bodies of water, and a dog leash with a built-in flashlight. There was also the Sweet Dreams sleep mask, a rechargeable multisensory experience that also heats up, has noise-canceling earmuff-style headphones that play music, and a forehead massager. Another group sketched up a wheelchair that helps caregivers lift patients. The students had nursing homes and physical therapists in mind with the “Carrier-2000.” One girl said it sprang from watching her mom struggle to lift her older sister, who has a disability, out of her wheelchair, but the whole team was on board with the idea. “So come with us,” they said in unison, “to carry to a better future.”