Prince George’s Co. high school students pitch products ‘Shark Tank’-style in business contest

Like “Shark Tank” but for high school students. That’s how Ashley Montgomery, the business education teacher at Oxon Hill High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland, describes the contest his students have been preparing for all year.

Two teams of students from the school entered the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s DC Metro Youth Challenge, taking place Wednesday in D.C.

Students can compete individually or team up. Montgomery said students learn to collaborate when working in pairs. “They actually have to work together, and bounce ideas off one another, and come up with a consensus on certain areas of the business,” Montgomery said.

Three of the four students competing this year are seniors, who have avoided succumbing to the senior slump that can affect students who are about to graduate. “This group has really been committed to the process all the way through,” Montgomery said.

Among the products his students will pitch is “Say Cheese!,” a software that lets users take photos from up to 50 feet away with a simple hand movement. Seniors Sydney Avelino and Shemari French hatched that idea. Junior Kennedy Penn and senior Carlos Aranzana developed “Lead Locator,” a device that lets users test lead levels in their water at home.

Penn, a 17-year-old who described herself as “clueless” when it comes to her career plans, said the experience of developing a business has sharpened her focus. She now knows she wants to incorporate business into her future studies.

“It was a lot of work, but I actually enjoyed it. I knew that it was something I’d want to do in the future,” Penn said.

It helped that the project was personally meaningful to her. Penn said that a relative suffered from lead exposure as a small child. So, when she heard about the Lead Locator project, she said, “This is perfect! This is something that I want to be a part of.”

Penn said Montgomery has been a mentor, as well as a teacher. “He has helped so much,” she said.

“The standard started high. I was always ready for whatever competition we had,” thanks to Montgomery’s guidance and expectations. She had confidence going into each round of competition as a result.

“I already knew the standards that Mr. Montgomery held us to,” Penn said. Plus, “He gives very good advice.”

Another student in the competition, Ela Gokcigdem, founded “E-Pearl Technologies,” a company with the goal of providing tech products that are affordable.

E-Pearl’s first product is a set of rechargeable, noise-canceling headphones for “active consumers” that fit securely. Gokcigdem is a junior at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia.

In the regional competition, students can win $500, $1,000 or $1,500, depending on whether they come in third, second or first place.

Winners of the D.C. challenge will move on to the national competition in October in New York City, where students could win as much as $17,500, said Steve Legacy, director of programs for the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.

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