Student entrepreneurs earn prizes in Hazleton LaunchBox pitch competition

Three students and an instructor smiling in an online conference room.

The Hazleton LaunchBox recently held its Teen Entrepreneurship Challenge Pitch Competition. Pictured (clockwise, from top left) are Entrepreneurship Education Coordinator and program instructor William Andahazy, first-place finisher Jacob Marinock, second-place finisher Tiana Parker-Mayo, and third-place finisher Michael Mullisky. 

Credit: Penn State

HAZLETON, Pa. — An idea for a product that aims to improve the lives of children battling a rare degenerative disease earned a local high school student first prize in the Teen Entrepreneurship Challenge Pitch Competition hosted by the Hazleton LaunchBox supported by Pasco L. Schiavo, Esq. on Aug. 15.

The Teen Entrepreneurship Challenge, organized through partnerships with Penn State Wilkes-Barre, the LionLaunch at Penn State Schuylkill, and tecBRIDGE, a regional economic development organization, was an eight-week program that taught high school students how to develop a product or business idea. Students then pitched their ideas to a panel of judges in a “Shark Tank”-style competition.

“I know you’re all going to wow us,” Penn State Hazleton Chancellor Elizabeth J. Wright told students before the competition. “We’re proud of you and are really excited to hear your ideas and learn from you.”

Eight students pitched their ideas, but it was Jacob Marinock’s that wowed the judges the most.

Marinock, a rising senior at the Hazleton Area Academy of Sciences, won the $1,000 first-place prize for pitching “AT Sole,” layered gloves and shoes for children with ataxia-telangiectasia, or “AT.” Often developing in early childhood, the condition affects the nervous and immune systems, causing balance and coordination issues, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Marinock said he got his product idea from an acquaintance who was battling the disease.

During his pitch, Marinock described how “AT Sole” would provide the support and comfort that those with the condition need in order to exercise daily, thereby increasing muscle movement, flexibility and strength, and improving quality of life.

In addition to including a diagram of the product, Marinock provided a market analysis, startup costs, financial projections, testimonials, and other details in support of his pitch.

Finishing second in the competition and earning a $500 prize was Tiana Parker-Mayo from REACH Charter Cyber School, who pitched an idea for a funnel that would help disperse butter throughout a bucket of popcorn. Third place was awarded to Michael Mullisky from Crestwood High School, who shared an idea for a coffee shop for like-minded students and artists.

Judges also heard presentations from Mila Smith from West Scranton High School, who pitched a mobile app for artists; Woobie Kupsky from MMI Preparatory School, who shared his idea for a smart tag that helps locate lost items; Aanyae Anderson from REACH Cyber Charter School, who developed a nonprofit that builds houses for the homeless; Mary Kate Kupsky from MMI Preparatory School, who created a T-shirt company that raises awareness of endangered species; Omarion Smith from REACH Cyber Charter School, who introduced a mobile app for gamers; and Kimora Talley from REACH Cyber Charter School, who pitched a digital art supplies company.

“Each of the students who participated in the Teen Entrepreneurship Challenge Pitch Competition came poised and prepared to share the impressive ideas they’ve been working so hard to develop over the past several weeks,” said Debra Conway, director of the Hazleton LaunchBox and director of Continuing Education at Penn State Hazleton. "We look forward to seeing what great things they will do in life with the insights they learned in this program.”

In the weeks leading up to the competition, students worked with Hazleton LaunchBox Entrepreneurship Education Coordinator William Andahazy to develop and fine-tune their product ideas. Andahazy led brainstorming sessions to help students think creatively, shared approaches to identifying and solving problems, and discussed the importance of customer discovery.

“From the very first class, students were engaged and eager to put their ideas into action,” Andahazy said. “The amount of growth we saw in just a few weeks shows just how determined they were to succeed.”

Serving as judges were Jerry Lisman, CEO of Lisman Holdings, Vicky Perez of Community Bank in Hazleton, Lee S. Piatt, partner at law firm Rosenn, Jenkins & Greenwald, and Roger Lee, director of innovation and entrepreneurship at Penn State Brandywine.

In addition to asking the participants questions about their ideas, each judge offered advice and encouraged students to continue pursuing their passions.

Click here for information on the Teen Entrepreneurship Challenge.