What would inspire a business plan built around saving koalas from extinction? Koala-ity, a team competing at Junior Achievement of Kentuckiana‘s inaugural JA Pitch Competition & Showcase, gave a simple answer: “Koalas are dope. Dead koalas are not dope.” While that response coaxed laughs from both the crowd and the stage, Koala-ity and all other finalist teams in the competition took their business ideas seriously and put real effort into their plans and pitches, making the JA Pitch event a notable achievement for young entrepreneurship in Kentucky.
For evidence, look no further than the winners of the competition: ShoeLife, a startup formed by Jeffersontown High School students that designs and produces “swaglets,” or custom-styled aglets that shoe enthusiasts–and anyone with a sense of personal style–can use to decorate the ends of their shoelaces. And of course, like traditional aglets, these also protect the ends of your shoelaces–wait, fashion and function? Yup. In fact, the sharks were so impressed they seemed keen on investing serious capital in the business, so who knows? You might see ShoeLife’s swaglets for sale online and in stores before you know it!
Other finalists included eventual runner-up Zip Clips, a startup out of Louisville Collegiate that developed plastic augments for zippers to make them easier to use. Second runner-up went to Jeffersontown HS’s other finalist, Byte the Buzz, whose product protects the ends of device charging cords to prevent them from wearing and fraying. Other teams included Eagle Tech from The Academy at Shawnee High School, a company that bought and resold battery chargers for mobile devices, and previously mentioned Koala-ity of Atherton High School, the lone non-profit among the teams.
The panel of “sharks” judging the evenings competitors was impressive, including VP at JP Morgan & Chase Don Wenzel, UofL Assoc. Dir. of Entrepreneurship Sharon Kerrick, VP of Nucleus Vik Chadha, Dion Dunn of Centric Consulting, and Forecastle Festival founder JK McKnight, who also served as the event’s keynote speaker. After relating the story of how Forecastle crowds grew from 7o people in its first year to over 60,000 today, McKnight emphasized three core values that guided his journey as a social entrepreneur: Excellence, Discipline, and Integrity.
Interapt CEO Ankur Gopal was not only a “shark” for the event, but also served as its emcee. “While I have emceed big events before, when it comes to business pitch competitions, I’ve spent most of my time on the other side, pitching my business ideas to sharks,” says Gopal. “As a shark, I was really pleased with how well the teams prepared their business ideas and thought on their feet when we challenged them with hard questions. I can’t wait to see what next year will bring when JA takes this competition statewide.”
That’s right: While the inaugural year of JA Pitch was confined to Louisville-area schools, JA has ambitions to involve all Kentucky high schools with next year’s Pitch Competition & Showcase. “There are bright students all over Kentucky just waiting for their chance to bring a new idea to life, and this event proved they’re up to the challenge, they just need that opportunity,” says Gopal. “JA was instrumental to my growth as an entrepreneur, and working with people like Debra Hoffer at JA and Lisa Bajorinas at GLI to make this a continued success is just one way we’re all trying to pay it forward.”
See a gallery of images from the event on our Facebook page!