by John Jonelis
What happens when you give kids—kids gifted in math and science—a real chance to bust out with their God given talents and excel?
- What if you trust them to lay their greasy little hands on equipment normally available only at elite universities?
- What if you allow them to direct their own time?
- What if you challenge them to construct their own goals and learn by themselves how to accomplish them?
- What if you dare them to build real startup businesses at such a tender age?
- And what if you throw them into a competition against a panel of critical judges from the real private equity world?
What happens? Good things! Good things happen! They happen here at IMSA – the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. I’ll give you an intimate peek at the inner works of this educational powerhouse so you can see for yourself what makes this one of the biggest success stories in the country.
Showcase – Chandra Gangavarapu
This is a high school with a serious entrepreneurship program. Many of the ideas, business models, and pitches produced here outshine what we’re accustomed to in the business world. Mere students, you say? Some of their companies have gained funding and gone to market. And many of these same students intern at real-world startups throughout Chicago.
According to Britta McKenna, Chief Innovation Officer at IN2, “Kids love to have real-world problems to actually work at. This space provides that opportunity.”
Today’s event is the grueling POWER PITCH. Each team presents its company twice before separate panels of judges—the finalists pitch three times.
What Do the Judges Say?
The judges are all smiles as they feed at the idea bar after the first round. Competitors get whittled down by secret ballot. I corner John Lump. He’s a colleague at Heartland Angels and a professor at DePaul where I’ve lectured at his invitation on risk profiles in private equity. See IN YOUR FACE RISK.
This a practical guy who’s knee-deep in the real world of business as VP of Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago. I can count on him for an honest opinion. Here it is verbatim:
John Lump — Judge
“I love being a judge here. Second year I’ve been doing it. And it’s exciting and a lot of fun. The enthusiasm and energy of the kids is just fantastic.”
Swelly – Tyler Stock
“I saw several interesting businesses.
- Swelly is a temporary insurance company.
- Blabl is a company to help students with speech disabilities.
- Rethink Numeracy is one that helps students with Downs Syndrome learn math—a more visual approach.
Some really cool ideas here.”
Blabl – Ayan Agarwal
“Obviously these entrepreneurs are quite young. There are some still in Jr. High. You’re talking kids that are 10, 12, 13 years old and already starting businesses! At Heartland Angels, we see entrepreneurs in their 20s up to their 50s and 60s. So these kids need much more mentoring. But I think you’re going to see some business opportunities here.”
Rethink Numeracy – Akshaya Raghavan
I touch base with Moises Goldman. As I’ve said before, he’s an old hand at private equity in Chicago and a VIP here at IMSA. I’ve known him a long time, and trust what he says. He’s a guy that projects humility, but receives deference and respect.
Moises Goldman – Judge
Today Moises is bursting with exuberance and he speaks with more passion than I’ve ever seen. What he says is as intuitive and emotional as it is insightful.
“Two of these kids blew me away. The company is called Fast Exit. One brother is 12 and the other is 15. Twelve and fifteen! I looked at the father and just jokingly said to him, what is it that you do? These kids are very, bright. Very, very bright—both of them.
[Moises is talking about the Orr brothers, Joshua and Maxwell. The older brother is in 8th grade at Avery Coonley. They are each pitching their own companies today.]
“What blew me away was that they’re two brothers, so I look at the father and I just wonder, what are his challenges as a dad with these two amazing kids? Because the social environment that they have—it must be an alternative universe to the one that I’m used to—that I grew up in.”
Jim Gerry with Joshua Orr of Fast Exit
[I suggest to Moises that their home life must be very nurturing.]
“Yes, somehow. But I’m amazed. That really blew me away—that blew me away. Last year, the older boy had a drone project that was a game you could adapt to Dave and Busters in that kind of environment.”
[I recall that drone project and ask if they’re both planning to attend IMSA.]
“The 12-year old—I don’t know. The 15-year old is applying for the coming year.”
OneNote Quiz – Maxwell Orr
Today there are 17 judges at Power Pitch – Patrick Bresnahan, Dane Christianson, Moises Goldman, Joe Jordan, Sanza Kazadi, Christine Krause, Maria Kuhn, John Lump, Josh Metnick, Nancy Munro, Kelly Page, Jacob Plumber, Lance Pressl, Julia Sanberger, Chris Stiegal, Tom Voigt, Joe Zlotniki. I agreed to be an alternate and fortunately don’t get that tap on the shoulder. I want to see the whole event.
Shop Cheetah – Catelyn Rounds, Julian Kroschke
IMSA’s entrepreneurship program is called TALENT—Total Applied Learning for Entrepreneurship—led by Dr. Carl Heine, Britta McKenna, and Jim Gerry. Jim is technically retired from the program but still volunteers his time. This is too much fun to stay away.
Heat2Heal – Sushil and Pranav Upadhyayula
At this place, students get real-life experience and opportunities to solve real-world problems and bring ideas to market. The goal is to instill the thinking patterns and mindset of an entrepreneur:
- Develop a product
- Form a team
- Communicate ideas
- Formulate a business plan
- Protect intellectual property
- Work your network
- Raise funding
- Start the business
Really? These are high school kids—some even younger. In a world of schools dominated by gangs, drugs, and fear, who would think them capable of such positive desires and accomplishments? Then I come across one of the quotes on the wall:
IMSA Fast Facts
- Teaching philosophy – The Socratic approach. Self-directed learning and problem-based learning.
- 99.8% of IMSA students attend college.
- 70.1% pursue majors in science or math.
- 47% of faculty is PhD.
- Alumni hail from every district in Illinois.
- This is the school’s 30th year.
The IN2 Entrepreneurship Center at IMSA
I snag Dr Carl Heine, as he moves between presentations. He’s director of IMSA TALENT, their entrepreneurship program. I ask him if IMSA still has a presence at 1871, the huge incubator in downtown Chicago, or if all the activity is at the new IN2 facility.
Dr. Carl Heine, Director of IMSA TALENT
“IMSA is still a member of 1871. We take our students on Wednesdays to intern at companies. They’re embedded in startup teams. We can’t teach a class that’s better than that.”
“We do it every Wednesday. 1871 is just one location. We have students at the James Jordan Foundation downtown. Three of them are interning there right now, working on summer curriculum. There are students at a variety of other spots, too.”
[“This year’s Power Pitch is better than I’ve ever seen.”]
“POWER PITCH is an event that makes people feel good about the future. I hope you feel that way as a result of your involvement.
“The top three high school teams are advancing to the Next Launch regional competition in Indianapolis on May 17. If you would like to continue to work with your favorite team as a thought partner, a mentor or more, the purpose of IN2 and TALENT is to make that happen.”
[I decide that Carl is the Yoda of IN2. I ask him, “What other events are coming up?”]
“This has been an academy for 30 years now, so we’d like to have a celebration. We’ve put it on March 30th this year, so there’s a 30 and a 30. As part of that, we’re doing the ribbon cutting for the IN2 space, and the new science labs that are part of a capital campaign that just wrapped up as well. And we’re celebrating the accomplishments of the institution over the last 30 years.”
This is just brilliant!
IMSA trains students not to fear any subject. I noticed THEORY OF ANALYSIS on the course syllabus. Normally, that’s offered only at the university level and it’s a course that’s hated and avoided by math majors nationwide. Never be intimidated by difficult subjects.
17 Student Teams
IMSA’s President, Jose׳ M Torres, and the Stephanie Pace Marshall Endowment present the awards.
The top three high school teams—Blabl, Heat2Heal and Flameless—advance to the Next Launch Regional Competition in Indianapolis on May 17. The two winning middle school teams are Fast Exit and Shop Cheetah.
Blabl– Ayan Agarwal
Social Good Category Finalists & Winners
- Blabl – Ayan Agarwal – A mobile application that engages speech impaired children in conversation with an avatar – $1000 prize, Top 3 HS team
- Heat2Heal – Sushil Upadhyayula, Pranav Upadhyayula – A hands-free, self-powered Arthritis Wrap that converts body heat into electricity to provide targeted massaging & heat therapy for stiff joints – $500, Top 3 HS team
- Rethink Numeracy – Akshaya Raghavan – Teaching numeracy to children with Down Syndrome, leveraging their learning strengths.
- Double-Check – Rishi Modi – A protective biometric alternative to prevent ID theft.
Heat2Heal– Sushil Upadhyayula & Pranav Upadhyayula
Social entrepreneurs create self-sustaining businesses that promote social good. The STEM category is for-profit tech companies.
Fast Exit – Joshua Orr
STEM Category Finalists & Winners
- FastExit – Joshua Orr – A life-saving solution for managing exit signs – $1,000 prize, middle school team.
- Shop Cheetah – Catelyn Rounds, Julian Kroschke – A groundbreaking store navigation system that saves times and routes customers through the store – $500 prize, middle school team.
- Flameless – Sivam Bhatt, Nikhil Madugula – Extinguishing cooking fires automatically with sound waves – Top 3 HS team.
- Swelly – Aneesh Kudaravalli, Tyler Stock – A mobile app that allows users to get flexible insurance on personal items in an instant.
Shop Cheetah – Catelyn Rounds & Julian Kroschke
Other Competing Teams
- Alert – Ashritha Karuturi, Priya Kumar – An app that efficiently connects homeowners to rescue workers, saving time and lives.
- Be Bettah – Zoe Mitchell – The food search engine and cookbook series that allows for bettah nutrition without changing your lifestyle.
- Electrofood – Alex Orlov – A microbial fuel cell that converts food waste to electricity.
- OneNote Quiz – Max Orr – The personalized quiz generator.
Flameless – Sivam Bhatt & Nikhil Madugula
- SafeSeat – Elliott Cleven – An app to alert parents if their child is left in a car unattended.
- Showcase – Chandra Gangavarapu – A web app for musicians and dancers to gain recognition for their art.
- Social Bread – Vainius Normantas – Using social media advertisements to raise funding and awareness for communities in need.
- Strobe – Jayant Kumar, Zaid Kazmi – LED light strip supplements for fire and carbon monoxide alarms to assist the hearing impaired.
- Verifact! – Shreya Pattisapu – An effective and efficient way to couter fake news.
Hope you enjoyed Part 2 – POWER PITCH
IN2 Contact Info
Address – 1500 Sullivan Rd. Aurora, IL 60506
Website – https://www.imsa.edu/
Carl Heine – email@example.com
Britta McKenna – firstname.lastname@example.org
Tami Armstrong – email@example.com
Photography by John Jonelis
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