The creators of a tracking app, a solar technology startup and a cosmetics business are all vying for cash to support their entrepreneurial efforts. And no, they’re not going on “Shark Tank.”
The people behind the fledgling companies are Santa Monica High School students, and they’re participating in a competition organized by a local nonprofit organization to promote entrepreneurial skills.
The three Samohi teams will be among about 45 finalist groups at Project ECHO’s event Sunday at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, where volunteer judges will determine the winners of a combined $6,250 in prize money.
The competition is the culmination of a monthslong program through which high school students in five Southern California counties come up with business plans, harnessing their talents while developing skills that could help them in the future.
“They’re thinking about what a business is, they’re thinking about who’s going purchase their services or goods and they’re learning how to market to a demographic,” said Diane Quast, Project ECHO’s executive director. “They’re learning how to research where they want their business to be and how to run a social media campaign.
“For that kid who’s a quirky doodler who didn’t know what they could do with their drawings, now they’re the person behind the marketing platform and creating a logo. The girl who was a math genius, she’s now the CFO. Whatever their skill is, they know what they can do with that skill when they graduate from high school.”
Santa Monica has played a major role in the growth of Project ECHO, an acronym for Entrepreneurial Concepts Hands On. Samohi was one of the first area high schools to partner with the organization, which was launched 20 years ago.
With the help of the nonprofit, which was originally created to help high school students start on-campus businesses, Santa Monica High students launched a flower shop, a catering company and a valet service.
A former Samohi teacher, Terry Jones, later helped Project ECHO develop the curriculum that it now offers to high school throughout the region.
Starting each school year, students attend business boot camps and mentor days. The aspiring entrepreneurs form groups, develop formal business plans and figure out how they would sell their products and services. About 75 teams attended the semifinals March 13 at Loyola Marymount University.
The remaining finalists are now vying for top-three recognition in three separate categories: technology, retail and food/beverage.
One of Samohi’s technology teams devised an app, Attendachip, that would digitally track school attendance. The local high school’s other technology group conceived Solartron, which would harness solar energy to control vehicle temperatures. A retail team came up with Healthy Skin Cosmetics, an aloe-based product for sensitive skin.
Real-world business leaders will serve as judges, assessing the students’ written proposals and oral presentations to decide which projects they would be most likely to fund.
“A lot of coaching and mentoring goes on between the leaders and the students,” Quast said. “It’s a phenomenal networking opportunity.”