At ‘Shark Tank’ event, Carver Middle School students pitch startup ideas to VCU entrepreneurship judges

A Carver Middle School student plays a guitar to demonstrate how his team's "Music Master&qu...
A Carver Middle School student plays a guitar to demonstrate how his team's "Music Master" business idea would strip vocals from music tracks, thereby allowing guitar players to more easily learn to play songs.
Photos by Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs
One team, "Round the Block," brought samples of desserts they prepared, including a watermelon lime agua fresca and Cuban and Polish baked goods.
One team, "Round the Block," brought samples of desserts they prepared, including a watermelon lime agua fresca and Cuban and Polish baked goods.

Four eighth-grade girls at G. W. Carver Middle School in Chester, Virginia, are pitching their business idea to a panel of judges from Virginia Commonwealth University’s entrepreneurship programs. The pitch: a food truck called “Round the Block,” specializing in desserts from their grandparents’ native countries of Cuba, Vietnam, Poland and Canada.

“What’s the one thing that everyone in the world needs and loves? Food!” one team member said. “And what’s the sweetest food of all? Dessert!”

“Our goal is bring a taste of home to our customers,” added another.

The “Round the Block” team was one of eight that pitched their startup ideas at Carver Middle School on Thursday as part of a “Shark Tank”-style competition, giving them a taste of what it’s like to innovate, pitch investors, and collaborate in launching a company, while also getting feedback from the VCU entrepreneurship panel.

“I told them not only do you need to have a great idea, a cool, unique idea, you also have to have everything buttoned down, as far as their numbers and their money, and they need to have a great presentation — poised, confident and some charisma involved,” said Debbie Bailey, who teaches civics and economics at Carver. “And when they know that they’re going to be presenting before the VCU entrepreneurial [staff and students], the kids really step up their game and work really hard to produce quality work.”

In addition to “Round the Block,” students pitched business ideas such as “ThumbDrive,” a thumbprint ID scanner that would unlock and start a car; “Wake Up,” which was billed as the alarm clock of the future; “Triumphant Bar,” which makes granola bars from scratch; and “Worlds Collide Bakery,” which provided the judges with samples from trays piled high with baked goods.

“This program here, I love it because I’m seeing young minds in action coming up with these great, great concepts,” said judge Herman Asberry IV, co-founder of HNTR, an online platform for buying and selling verified sneakers and clothing.

Left to right, the VCU entrepreneurship panel: Herman Asberry IV, co-founder of sneaker website HNTR, which took part in VCU's Pre-Accelerator Program; Nicole Monk, director, VCU Innovation Economy; and Dominic Costanzo, of VCU Innovation Gateway.
Left to right, the VCU entrepreneurship panel: Herman Asberry IV, co-founder of sneaker website HNTR, which took part in VCU's Pre-Accelerator Program; Nicole Monk, director, VCU Innovation Economy; and Dominic Costanzo, of VCU Innovation Gateway.

Asberry, along with co-founder Bryce Johnson, a senior in the Department of Political Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences, took part in VCU’s spring Pre-Accelerator Program, a three-month program focused on guiding students’ promising business ideas through the challenging early stages of building a startup.

Asberry, who studied business and engineering at VCU and is planning to pursue a master’s degree from the School of Business in the fall, got into entrepreneurship as a middle schooler himself, selling Dragon Ball Z pictures for $1, ultimately bringing in $300 before his school shut it down.

A team pitching "Worlds Collide Bakery" brought trays of samples of their baked goods from around the world.
A team pitching "Worlds Collide Bakery" brought trays of samples of their baked goods from around the world.

“As a child myself, who got into entrepreneurship in middle school, you’re able to get [experience] when you’re in middle and high school, so then you’re really ready for getting some action done,” he said. “Programs like this are extremely helpful. It allows children to use their imagination.”

The students’ pitches needed more than just a business idea. Bailey also required them to outline a marketing plan, analyze the competition, determine their product’s price and profit margin, define the targeted audience, and consider how much investment they would need in order to launch.

At Thursday’s competition, the VCU panel picked “Noah’s B’Ark,” a dog treat and supplies subscription box, as the winning pitch.

The event, panel members said, was a great opportunity to engage with the community and perhaps help inspire future entrepreneurs.

“This is the next generation of students that might one day go to VCU,” said Nicole Monk, director, VCU Innovation Economy. “We want to make sure they’re exposed to venture creation and entrepreneurship before they ever get to VCU. That just kind of elevates everyone’s program. These students are pretty impressive.”

Students pitching a restaurant called "Go Shack Grill" handed out samples of their spicy tacos and hot dogs.
Students pitching a restaurant called "Go Shack Grill" handed out samples of their spicy tacos and hot dogs.

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