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Milton Hershey students present ideas at school's version of 'Shark Tank'

- Last modified: April 12, 2013 at 11:58 AM

Would you buy an energy muffin? What about a quick charge reheatable Thermos that is dishwasher safe?

These were just a few of the ideas that Milton Hershey School junior and senior students presented today to local business leaders at the school's first-ever "Shark Tank" program.

Patterned after the popular television show where entrepreneurs pitch their product or service to a group of potential capital investors, three groups of students in the "Principles of Management" class took turns over three periods to present their business idea to the various "sharks."

The idea was to have area business experts "tear holes" in the idea, so that students might refine them for a final proposal before all classmates next week.

"This project is about how they view the problem and what they would do about solving it," said Keith Marmer, director of the Office of Technology Development at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, who was one of the sharks. "It's a transferable skill."

Ideas presented by individual students and partner groups ran the gamut from products to various services — some geared specifically to needs the students have identified at the school, including added transportation and online services that create new options or save time.

The students in these classes have been participating in the Kauffman Foundation's Ice House Entrepreneurship program, which is modeled after the book "Who Owns the Ice House?" by Clifton Taulbert and Gary Schoeniger.

These students began working on the concepts in November, said instructor Matt Bergman. During the winter, they conducted market research and developed the idea into a business model, which was integrated into PowerPoint presentations.

They had 20 minutes to pitch the problem they identified as well as their solution. They were asked to come up with everything from the anticipated customer base to the price of the product or service, plus how they would produce and market it, costs needed to get it started and how they would follow through on the concept.

"We learn so much from failure," said Bergman, who approved the ideas and offered his own criticism of each before the local business professionals came in to hear the proposals. "They are learning stuff here that they would never learn in a textbook."

Milton Hershey School has been reinventing its curriculum to address workforce needs of the 21st century, said Robert Kemmery, director of career/technical education and transition services.

The goal of this new entrepreneurial program is not just about building a company, he said. The hope is that these students will learn valuable life skills and that engagement with community partners will enrich their student experience.

Last year, 100 percent of Milton Hershey students earned career certifications in one of the career technology education programs, Kemmery said. The mission is to prevent these students coming from 150 percent of the poverty level or less from ever returning to poverty, he said.

The school aims to provide them with marketable credentials that will land them in careers with benefits. Last year, the school graduated 192 students, Kemmery said. It expects to graduate 188 this year.

It's important to plant that seed of entrepreneurial spirit now because it will help these students realize that problems can be solved and they can be the ones who solve them, said Jeff Smith, manager of global marketing training for the Hershey Co., another shark.

Other participating sharks came from the Pennsylvania Bar Institute, Power Pro Battery Co., Pennsylvania American Water Co. and Boyer & Ritter Certified Public Accountants & Consultants.

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