Students Shine at First-ever High School Startup Weekend

Students Shine at First-ever High School Startup Weekend
High School Startup Weekend participants from 11 Arkansas schools gathered for a group shot with event emcees Jordan Carlisle and Max Farrell and Noble Impact founder and chairman Steve Clark (far left) Sunday night at the Clinton School's Sturgis Hall. 

More than 80 students in grades 9-12 spent the weekend in Little Rock coming up with potential tech-based startup ventures as part of the first-ever High School Startup Weekend.

An official Startup Weekend event, High School Startup Weekend was organized by Little Rock's Noble Impact, which works in partnership with the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service to engage students in public service through entrepreneurship. The Clinton School hosted the event, which named its winners Sunday night after 54 hours of brainstorming and networking.

The top prize went to a North Little Rock High School venture called CatchinUp, which aims to help high-school students who fall behind in their school work. The idea, from students Mason Graves, Yehudi Jaquex, Nick Killough and Jose Romero, would place cameras in classrooms so teachers could record their lessons and provide notes. Students could then have online access to lectures, lesson plans and teachers' notes.

By virtue of taking the top prize, CatchinUp team members won a fellowship to the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, a $250 business-card printing credit from, and a Clinton School Public Program feature in the fall.

All HSSW students were given access all weekend to mentors and coaches including Jeanette Balleza Collins, director of the ARK Challenge NWA; Little Rock startup lawyer Jamie Fugitt; Innovation Hub director Warwick Sabin; Launch Pad maker space director Joel Gordon; Emily Reeves of Stone Ward; Cade Collister of Fayetteville's Acumen Brands; and local startup champions Jordan Carlisle and Max Farrell.

Judging was a three-person panel comprised of national startup and technology writers Shaila Ittycheria of New York and Arkansas-native Erica Swallow, plus Greg Scruggs, a defensive end with the Super Bowl-champion Seattle Seahawks.

Ittycheria is co-founder of national apprenticeship program Enstitute and a contributor to publications including The New York Times, Forbes and Fast Company.

Swallow, who earned her undergraduate degree from New York University after graduating from Paragould High School, is an MBA student at MIT's Sloan School of Management; the founder of mobile thermometer app Temperature and other startup ventures; and a contributor to publications including Mashable, Entrepreneur and The Huffington Post.

Scruggs, a Cincinnati native who played his college ball at Louisville, spent the 2013 season recuperating from a torn ACL and is expected to return in the fall. His passion for youth entrepreneurship and connection to Noble Impact co-founder Chad Williamson landed him an invitation to judge.

Second place and the best pitch award went to Tow 'N Stow, a venture from eStem students Brandon Wilburn, Josh Hoffman, Wyatt Clough, Jordan Jackson, Alex Bibb and Jordan Young. Their idea is to provide portable storage lockers at large outdoor events.

Third place was awarded to another eStem team, Polish to Go, which created its own prototype of a nail polish "pen" that delivers nail polish on one side and nail polish remover on the other. Team members are Jones McConnell, Justice Barnes, Jasmine Williams, Michael Pettus and Sylas Brantley.

The Clinton School's Social Impact Award and Daniel Cayce Award for volunteerism were won by the Gamecon team from Episcopal Collegiate School (Will Goodson, Adam Jackson and Cogan Wade). Its product, River Riders, would help foster river conservancy through an online game.  

Other schools represented were Lisa Academy, Hall High and Central High of Little Rock; Har-Ber High from Springdale; Fayetteville High; Maumelle High; the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences & the Arts in Hot Springs; and Fort Smith's Chaffin Junior High.

The Noble Impact program was introduced to eStem High School in Little Rock this year to much success and will be included as part of the school's cirriculum next school year. Noble Impact students from eStem participated in last fall's Startup Weekend Northwest Arkansas and two of those students -- sophomores Sydney Brazil and Jase Burton -- recently launched The Hole Thing, a gourmet donut "holery."

The student entrepreneurs are negotiating with Mary Beth Ringgold of Copper Grill to use the downtown restaurant's kitchens after school and even appear on its dessert menu.

Noble Impact CEO Eric Wilson thinks seeds for more real-life ventures were planted this weekend. Wilson said judges were asked to hold nothing back in their questions and critiques of the students' ideas.

"Our goal was to show that high school students are ready for Startup Weekend," he said. "Our intention was not to water down the process because they're high-school students. If you look at the ideas they came up with and how they responded to the questions that would be put before any business venture, then we definitely hit our goal."

Wilson said national Startup Weekend organizers were impressed by Noble Impact's programs and the response for the inaugural HSSW.

Swallow also was impressed to see the first-ever High School Startup Weekend launched in her home state.

"I was very impressed by the students' capability to think of real-world problems and come up with real-world solutions," she said. "A lot of entrepreneurs don't address real-world problems."

Mike Steely, co-founder of the Arkansas Venture Center, believes the event will serve as a "catalyst for students across the state to begin to think, create and grow their ideas."  

"I can't wait to see what new companies come out of this weekend and how many of the participants -- and the crowd -- are now inspired to take initiative with their ideas," he said.