Shark Tank Pittsburgh

By: Marty Nwachukwu, Mentor Recruitment & High School Placement VISTA

After spending an hour in recess or with a local science program, scholars made their way to community meeting time. They rushed from their electives into the cafeteria at Pittsburgh U-Prep at Milliones High School. Thursday was Shark Tank!

On February 25, Entrepreneur Month culminated with Shark Tank at Pittsburgh’s Hill District Achievement Center. Scholars spent three weeks researching their business ideas with center staff and mentors. Entrepreneur Month was the brainchild of Center Director Sean Farr, based on the success of a week-long project at Summer Academy. Scholars came up with some amazing ideas that week, but due to the limited time, their projects were rushed. So Mr. Farr decided to dedicate the month of February to entrepreneurship.

To kick it off, scholars in the 5th and 6th grades watched a clip from ABC’s Shark Tank, while scholars in the 7th and 8th grades watched a video about a young man from Baltimore who raised money online to fund his homemade ice cream truck business. Scholars worked in teams to design products and services that they would like to see in their community.

Students made their way into the cafeteria with trepidation and excitement. The lunch tables were arranged in a semi-circle. Seated at the center were judges: Bruce Appelt, Virginea Stuart, and Derrick Tillman. Team by team, the scholars presented their ideas. Afterward, the judges asked them critical questions about their business models, and shared lessons about patents, marketing, and finance.

Scholars submitted a spectrum of products and services including beauty salons, self-driving cars, video games, and baked goods. Shy scholars broke out of their shells, excited to share their concepts, while other scholars perked up – surprised and intrigued by their peers’ ideas. “It was a creative exercise for a mindset towards ownership, and you could see the time they put in,” praised Mr. Tillman. The scholars did a fantastic job. They positioned themselves to stand out from their perceived market competition. One scholar even offered to donate a portion of her earnings to the local Children’s Hospital. Mr. Appelt was very impressed, and commented, “We might have a few entrepreneurs in our midst.”

The winner of the night was London, a 6th-grader. She wowed the judges with her “All-In-One” vending machine that could sell both individual and bundled school supplies. The decision was unanimous: “She could have easily done this on TV,” said Ms. Stuart.

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