Teen innovators pitch ideas to entrepreneurs

Program pushes high schoolers to build business plan

Tyler Thomas (left) and Andrew Bethea of Charlestown High School offered a device to avoid spilled beverages
Essdras M. Suarez/Globe Staff
Tyler Thomas (left) and Andrew Bethea of Charlestown High School offered a device to avoid spilled beverages

It was not quite the Shark Tank. More like the guppy tank.

But for the Boston high school freshman who stood on stage at Suffolk University on Saturday, the finalists in the BUILD Boston Youth Business Plan Competition, the goal was the same: to convince successful entrepreneurs that they had a viable, marketable, idea.

The competition, now in its third year, is part of a four-year program for youths at four area high schools, where students develop, pitch, manufacture, and then sell a product.


“Entrepreneurship is the hook,” Ayele Shakur, BUILD’s regional executive director said. “College is the goal.”

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

On Saturday, five teams of freshman from Charlestown High School, Another Course to College, Community Academy of Science and Health, and the Jeremiah E. Burke High School pitched their ideas to a panel of judges composed of local business leaders, a la the reality-TV show “Shark Tank.”

The concepts included a scarf that rolls up into a pouch, forming a pillow that allows commuters to sleep on the train, providing customers “a comfortable travel experience while looking good,” according to the team from Another Course to College; a clip-on cup holder, “No Mess, No Stress” was the tag line from the Charlestown High School team; glow-in-the-dark hair extensions from a team at Community Academy of Science and Health; and a clip-on accessory for glasses from a team at the Jeremiah E. Burke School, allowing customers to customize, and change, their eyewear when they’re “tired of wearing the same glasses, but don’t want to spend money on a new pair.”

The winning idea, which came with a $1,000 prize, was B-Ties, a three-in-one bow tie that can be worn traditionally, as a necklace, or as a hair clip. The problem it solves: “It fixes a boring outfit,” according to a team from Another Course to College.

All of the projects in the BUILD program are funded — start-up costs are typically a few hundred dollars — and after the freshman year, when they develop the idea and the business plan, they will then spend 10th grade manufacturing the product and 11th grade selling it, before they begin to wind down the company in their senior year as they prepare to head off to college.


Giselle Martinez, 15, who was part of the winning team, said she was so nervous during her presentation to a packed house at the C. Walsh Theater that her hands were cold and shaking. “I used to be really shy. I wouldn’t talk in front of the class,” Martinez said. “But with BUILD, I learned to have confidence in myself.”

Christopher Stephenson, a local entrepreneur who worked with the B-Ties team as they developed their idea, said it was remarkable to watch the transformation in the children from the time they started in the program in September.

“I know what it’s like to pitch, to deal with failure,” he said, “but to see kids at 14 or 15 going through this, showing courage and creativity, it was the most amazing experience.”

Billy Baker can be reached at