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Austin's High School Entrepreneurs Compete to See If Their Ideas Sink or Swim at SXSW

Miguel Guitierrez Jr./KUT
Gaby Ponce, Maya Messinger and Julie Tapia work on their propsal during Think It Up at Crockett High School.

Austin ISD and local charter school students got a chance to pitch innovative learning projects to a group of judges and experts this week as part of SXSWedu. Winners were awarded money to jumpstart their projects that focus on everything from gaming to equitable water access.

Groups of students are gathered around large, three-sided poster boards in the Crockett High School gym, just like a science fair.

But unlike a science fair, students aren’t presenting a completed project. They’re pitching projects they want to do — like on the television show “Shark Tank.” It’s an event called Think it Up Live, a national program from the Entertainment Industry Foundation. The goal is to encourage students to think of innovative ideas, mostly involving science, technology, engineering and math. The foundation then provides funding to bring some of those ideas to life.

Maya, Julie and Gaby are seniors at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders. They’re also cross-country runners interested in engineering and computer science. Julie says the group is pitching a wearable device that tracks muscle mass and body fat percentage.

“Fitness trackers are usually focusing on you losing weight and keeping track of how much you eat and lowering your calories,” Julie says as she launches into the group’s pitch.

The girls have two minutes to pitch their project and three minutes for feedback and questions from other students and the judges.

Credit Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT
Julie Tapia and Maya Messinger explain their project to judges.

“Engineering is about innovating what’s already on the market,” Gaby says. “This is definitely innovating fitness trackers already on the market that are focusing less on what we want to focus on.”

The event is similar to a new entrepreneurship curriculum at Crockett High School. Next year, juniors will pitch their projects to investors and, hopefully, get money to actually create an LLC and run a business or non-profit during their senior year. 

As for the students at Ann Richards, they were semi-finalists and won $250 toward their project. They're also working on it in their engineering class.

The winning project yesterday, another team from Ann Richards, received $1,000 for their project, which uses a “spoilage tracker”to reduce food waste.

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