• St. Louis area students pitch business ideas in national competition
     
    Joschula Page   Wristband Charger
    Joschula Page, a sophomore at McKinley Classical Jr. Academy, is photographed on Sept. 11, 2014. Page has a concept wristband (prototype pictured) that will charge your cell phone wirelessly that she is entering in the NFTE (National Youth Entrepreneurship) Challenge in Silicon Valley next month. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com 

    September 14, 2014 12:10 am  •  By Tim Barker tbarker@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8350

    Magnetic shoelaces and a wristband that recharges cellphones are about to attempt the leap from the drawing board to store shelves.

    These are concepts belonging to a pair of St. Louis-area teens who are competing in an upcoming national business contest.

    Jordan Harden of Berkeley and Joschula Page of St. Louis will be putting their ideas up against those of a few dozen other high schoolers from around the nation in October at the NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.

    They’ll be battling for a shot at $25,000, in funding and business services, through a shark-tank style competition — where fast-paced presentations are made to a panel of judges, who are free to grill the contestants.

    Jordan, 17, is a senior at McCluer South Berkeley High School. The idea for magnetic shoelaces is his.

    He sees it as a simple concept, and one that should appeal to pretty much everyone. The laces would be lined with magnets, assuring that once they are tied, they stay that way.

    Among those who could really take advantage of the laces — which could be customized with school colors and mascots — are athletes, he said.

    “It will give them an edge over their competition,” Jordan said. “They won’t have to worry about tripping over their shoelaces.”

    The wearable cellphone charger is the brainchild of Joschula, 15, a sophomore at McKinley Classical Leadership Academy.

    It would allow cellphone users to charge their phones without ever having to plug them into anything, she said.

    “It’s like Bluetooth energy, from one spot to another,” she said. “You could be 10 yards away.”

    For now, both students are preparing for October, working with patent lawyers and mentors, while getting assistance from faculty at St. Louis University.

    It’s not required for the competition, but they’d like to have working prototypes ready to show the judges.

    A scan of their competitors shows a wide range of ideas they’ll be going up against. A kid from Baltimore has legwarmers made of breathable material. A duo from Dallas wants to make biodegradable golf tees made from fertilizer. A Philadelphia team is pitching clothes with built-in solar panels. And an entry from Washington, D.C., would put cookies on sticks.

    This year’s final competition is taking place in Silicon Valley, at the National Computer History Museum, near the Google campus. The location, however, doesn’t necessarily mean the contest favors high-tech entries.

    Last year, at least, the winners were a couple of teens from South Holland, Ill., who came up with soccer socks with sewn-in pockets for shin pads.

    They demonstrated how important it is to connect with the judges, said Priya Nembhard, program manager with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, a New York-based organization that runs the competition, focusing on low-income communities.

    “Once they get in front of the judges, they have to turn on the charisma,” Nembhard said. “Those two boys lit up the stage.”

    While most of the attention in the competition will be focused on the Oct. 9 championship, a smaller competition takes place online.

    Contestants have developed short video presentations — elevator pitches — that will compete in online voting. Last year’s winner was Aliyah Wilson, of Florissant, who received $2,500 for her business, Cool Aid Crutch Wear, that makes decorative covers for crutches.

    While winning this year’s competition would provide a nice financial boost for the fledgling businesses, both Joschula and Jordan say they’re more focused on what they’re learning.

    “It’s not even about winning,” Jordan said. “I’m getting the opportunity to learn how to grow a business.”

    Joschula isn’t even all that interested in running a business, having her sights set on becoming an architect. But what if she found herself with a hit on her hands?

    “If it takes off, I would still go to college,” Joschula said. “I wouldn’t just drop everything.”

    It’s that sort of mindset that the entrepreneurship organization wants to foster.

    “At the end of the day, we are creating an entrepreneurial mindset,” Nembhard said. “We want them to know they have choices in their lives.”