Young Innovators Show Work

By Jane Dail
The Daily Reflector

July 24, 2014 – After about two weeks of fine-tuning ideas for inventions to solve common problems, a group of middle school students showed off their hard work and even caught the attention of a network TV show.

The Middle School Innovators Academy — a partnership between the Pitt County Development Commission, DSM Dyneema, Pitt County Schools, Beaufort County Schools and the North East Carolina Preparatory School — had its participants present ideas on Thursday morning at East Carolina University’s Willis Building.

At the same time, the ABC show “Shark Tank,” which gives participants a chance to pitch ideas in front of potential millionaire and billionaire investors, was holding open calls a few blocks away.

Mindy Zemrak, casting manager for the show, said she heard about MSIA through a newspaper report and wanted to check it out.

“When we found out it was right across the street, we thought it makes total sense to head over here and talk to these kids and see what they have going on and see if they’d be interested in being on the show,” Zemrak said.

She said some expressed interest in trying out for the show in the future.

“They all have potential,” she said. “They all have really unique, creative, out-of-the-box ideas. … If not now and they’re not ready, definitely very, very soon they will be.”

Zemrak spoke to each of the students about their ideas. Poster boards and models of their inventions were made out of foam, wood, cardboard and other materials.

Wayne Godwin, MSIA director and director of the ECU Innovation Design Lab, said there are great aspects in all of the ideas that could be further developed.

“The idea is that they go through this process one time and they become repeat offenders,” he said. “They actually learn how to begin to refine them.”

Bedie Kohake, DSM Dyneema plant engineer and MSIA volunteer, said she enjoys being part of the camp which she said challenges the way she thinks.

“I like to learn from the students,” Kohake said. “It’s inspiring, because they think outside of the box.”

Academy student Tucker Davis, 12, came up with an idea for a wearable drink container for when he plays sports.

“It’s a bracelet that can hold water, so if you’re like surfing or running or playing a sport, you can just drink out of it,” Tucker said. “You don’t have to stop to get something to drink.”

Several of the ideas were animal-related, including a vest that would help prevent injuries when falling off a horse and a cat habitat that also grooms.

Carlos Ochoa, 13, came up with the idea for a smart dog door, which would use collars with RFID tags and a phone application to track and allow entry.

“Say if you have two pets, a cat and a dog and you only allow your cat to go out at certain times, you can lock your cat from going out,” he said.

Ochoa said the invention would allow owners the convenience of dog doors without the possibility of stray or wild animals wandering into homes.

Amy Campbell attended the presentations with her son Riley, 11, who came up with an idea for a solar flower pot with an electrical outlet.

“I just thought this would be just a great opportunity for him to be with other kids and be creative and not to be afraid to express his ideas,” she said. “As adults, we have a lot of boundaries that keep us from trying to explore things.”

Campbell said her son may be interested in having an invention to present on “Shark Tank” eventually.

“Today I had no idea what his invention was, and Riley’s really shy,” she said. “I wouldn’t have thought he would’ve stood up there and interact and do everything he’s done. There’s no telling what Riley’s going to do.”

Zemrak said the camp stood out to “Shark Tank” staff because people are inspired by young entrepreneurs.

“We’ve had several entrepreneurs that are in their teens,” she said. “I think our youngest last year was 6 years old. … We love kid entrepreneurs, because they’re what’s going to build America … and we like to give kind of a fair shot to everyone.”

Contact Jane Dail at jdail@reflector.com or 252-329-9585.