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MORAVIA — Instead of students counting down the seconds until the last day of school, Moravia Middle School principal Bruce MacBain wanted to keep students' minds focused.

So seventh-grade students spent Tuesday presenting product ideas to businesspeople.

The idea is based around the TV show "Shark Tank," so student groups presented ideas to people with actual business experience. The judges then decided whether they would theoretically invest in the idea.

Teams would advance until the winning group would receive a cash prize. Students at the middle school library talked about their concepts in front of judges. The library panel consisted of Roger Phillips, founder of the Moravia company Glenview Graphics; Sharon Cronk, program manger of BAE Systems in Endicott; and Suzanne Shepherd, of Wegmans pharmacy in Auburn.

MacBain said he feels it is important for students to be evaluated by people with real-world experience.

"You're going to be in front of experts in the field so you need to be objectively good," MacBain said.

Seventh-grade science teacher Karen Schaub, who worked with students on their ideas, said she felt the young entrepreneurs stepped up to the plate. Schaub said the middle school often hold projects to task students to handle real-world problems, such as the Mars colony-themed event last year. With this concept, though, students have spent the last month working on problems they identified on their own. 

Students had to create a pitch, make a business plan, determine their finance and start-up costs and design a prototype. Schaub said she has been impressed with the students' efforts, despite many of them telling her before the presentations that they were nervous.

"I think it's about building confidence in your own ideas and that even as a youth you can have an idea that could impact the world," Schaub said.

At the library, students presented ideas such as the Fruitop, a container that would prevent materials like seeds from getting in. Other students presented a lunch box with a hot pack and a cold pack to keep food at the right temperatures, but judges suggested the students would want to work with an engineer to determine the proper materials for the packs.

Students Shy'Anne Rhodes and Haley Chase presented the Doggy Spa, which would help people bathe their dog. The kit includes a harness, soap and a mat to prevent the dog from slipping.

"The Doggy Spa will (make things) easier for keeping the dog relaxed. We don't want the dog to have any stress," Shy'Anne said.

The students said their target market for the product is dog owners, with an eye to market the spa using social media and sell it at Target, Walmart, PetSmart and veterinarian offices. Some profits would go to dog-friendly organizations such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Around $3,000 would be required to make 100 kits, and they would sell the items for $50 each, the students said.

Cronk asked what could prevent people from buying all of the items in the kit separately for less money. The students argued dog owners could buy the spa with all of the items equipped as opposed to buying each item separately, possibly for more money overall. Conk said that was a good point, adding she was extremely impressed that the students thought to donate to organizations.

"I think that would be a great gift for somebody who just got a new puppy," Cronk said.

Ultimately, each judge approved the idea.

The students said after the pitch that concerns about whether they practiced enough and if their presentation would be any good plagued them at first, but felt everything went well overall. Haley said she was thrilled when every judge said they liked the idea.

Haley said the idea was inspired by her attempts to bathe her first dog, whom she received Christmas Eve 2017. Since the dog resisted all of her attempts, Haley wondered about a way to keep to keep him relaxed. Since the dog loves harnesses, she decided to apply that to the spa concept. The pitching experience has given her a first hand example of what she is capable of, Haley said.

"I've always been told that whenever you put your mind to something you can achieve it, but I never thought until now that it would actually work," she said.

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Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.


Education Reporter