Local students pitched innovative ideas to tackle issues ranging from mental health to reducing waste at The Immokalee Foundation’s 2nd Annual Shark Tank. Hosted via Zoom in mid-July, the competition-style event was the culmination of a four-week entrepreneurship virtual summer camp for students that was supported by The Immokalee Foundation and hosted by the Florida Gulf Coast University’s School of Entrepreneurship.
The Immokalee Foundation’s students pitched their creative business start-up ideas—much like the popular TV show—to a panel of local business leaders. Serving as judges were Denise Cobb, an award-winning producer, broadcaster and station owner, and a founder of the Naples Children & Education Foundation. Michael Feuer, co–founder and former CEO of OfficeMax and now CEO of Max-Ventures, a private equity and consulting firm. As well as Brian Rist, executive chairman of The Smart Companies, of which Storm Smart—Florida’s largest manufacturer and installer of hurricane protection and lifestyle products—is the largest subsidiary.
“I was blown away by the thoughtfulness and maturity of the students involved in this program,” said Feuer. “They had to answer questions spontaneously, and their effectiveness speaks volumes about the invaluable training they received during this summer project.”
The first-place winner was H.O.P.E (Helping Others, Positive Encouragement), presented by the team of Alejandra Ramirez, Angel Aguilar Calmo, Ashley Juarez, Esmeralda Perez Martinez, Jose Rosario Juarez and Marianna Briones. Each student won $500 for the team’s idea to create a support system to help high schoolers develop coping skills and build peer relationships to deal with mental health issues.
Second place was awarded to Game Go Team, including Ivan Vega, Jonathan Vega, Jovanny Cruz and Luis Ponce. They won $250 each for their pitch to provide a gaming service that doesn’t require internet connectivity since poor Wi-Fi connections can cause problems with updates or large downloads.
The third-place winner was The Future of Families, presented by the team of Eduardo Chavez, Elvis Velasquez, Kener Matias and Lizbeth Huapilla. They were awarded $100 each for their idea to provide resources to help immigrant families with basic needs during their transition to life in the United States.
“The judges were impressed by each of the students and their enthusiasm for the products they had researched, developed and presented,” said Cobb. “It was clear that each team’s product came about from a shared passion among the team members.”
The camp provided a valuable real-world business experience for participants. Students worked with faculty at the School of Entrepreneurship, as well as local mentors, to learn about the entrepreneurial mindset and how to critically examine problems to develop innovative solutions. Student teams created a sustainable business model using the Lean Startup Method to address the issue they had identified, along with a prototype and pitch.
“Being able to interact and communicate with other students as well as professionals had a great impact on not only me but also my peers in The Immokalee Foundation’s Business Management & Entrepreneurship Career Pathway,” said participant Elvis Velasquez, an Immokalee High School 11th grader. “It was a great experience, and I learned a lot.”
“From my experience, people learn the most important lessons by doing, not merely by studying how to do something,” stated Feuer. “The Shark Tank event provided an essential, first giant step.”
Though the camp had to transition from in-person to virtual instruction because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it didn’t diminish the students’ dedication or creativity. “These students really bought in and committed to the process,” said Paul Evans, an instructor with the School of Entrepreneurship. “They identified problems that were relevant to them, and developed solutions and presentations that impressed the judges.”
These future entrepreneurs and business innovators now have skills and firsthand experience they can draw upon as they finish high school and move on to their post–secondary plans. “I have no doubt that these students can visualize college and career pathways they previously thought were unattainable,” said Cobb.
That is a primary objective of everything The Immokalee Foundation does. “We are beyond proud of our students for achieving excellence during the hard time we are facing now,” said Marissa Ocanas, business management and entrepreneurship coordinator for The Immokalee Foundation. “Participating in this camp and the Shark Tank event gives them insight and tools they can build on as they progress in their educational and career journeys.”
The Immokalee Foundation provides a range of education programs that focus on building pathways to professional careers through support, mentoring and tutoring, and life skills development leading to economic independence. To learn more about The Immokalee Foundation, becoming a mentor, its signature events, volunteering as a career panel speaker or host, making a donation, including the foundation in your estate plans, or for additional information, call 239-430-9122 or visit www.immokaleefoundation.org.