Northwest Education Services - Engineering Academy wins High School Pitch Finale
From the Traverse City Record-Eagle:
TRAVERSE CITY — Time and history was on the side of the Engineering Academy.
The class at Northwest Education Services took to the City Opera House stage to win the Newton’s Road High School Pitch Finale for the second time in as many years as part of Northern Michigan Startup Week.
A head start on the project may have been the difference for Engineering Academy’s Team Wok-Cell project, a robotic arm within a self-contained work cell capable of preparing stir fry based on the preferences of the customer.
Wok-Cell took the top prize of $500 Monday for its Engineering Academy classroom. Second place and $250 went to Vi-Tech from Traverse City West’s SciMaTech Academy. Vi-Tech is an app designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Two teams from the Elk Rapids High School Advancement Placement Computer Science Class rounded out the competition. Solely Shoes — The Transformable Running Shoes claimed third and $100 with Otua Belay Device honorable mention.
The Engineering Academy team said working on its project since the end of 2022 and earning a gold medal for manufacturing workcell at the National Robotics Challenge may have been the difference in prevailing at the competition.
Runner-up Vi-Tech had about two weeks of preparation in and around the FIRST Robotics Competition World Championship while the Elk Rapids teams worked on their pitches for two days and earlier in the day had taken their AP exam.
“We had a year of preparation time,” Traverse City Central senior Spencer Cobb said in the lobby at the City Opera House. “The other teams had great ideas, they just didn’t have enough time to see them through.”
Grand Traverse Academy senior Isaac Deneau and TC Central senior Simon Mackin agreed.
“We put a lot of time into it, starting in November or December,” said Mackin, who said preparing a video for the National Robotics Competition was great preparation. “Plus we were able to pitch to our peers and teachers.”
“I was definitely nervous getting up there on stage,” Deneau added. “But in the end having enough practice and preparation as a team paid off.”
Traverse City West freshman Reese Hartman didn’t seem to have any nervousness. Hartman handled the five-minute presentation and the five-minute question-and-answer session from the panel of judges herself.
“I couldn’t have been up there myself as a freshman,” Mackin admitted.
Hartman began her presentation by asking the audience how many people have had COVID-19 once, then two and three times.
The multi-layered app idea from SciMaTech is designed around COVID-19, but could be expanded.
“It’s an app to slow the spread of infectious diseases by educating the public,” Hartman said.
Soley Shoes is an idea for a running shoe that would have interchangeable soles for different surfaces, making it more cost-effective and less harmful to the environment.
Otua — auto spelled backward — is an idea for “a belay device that securely lowers you down while top roping, counteracts weight while lead climbing, and in general creates a more secure way to climb,” according to its slide presentation.
Monday night’s pitch finale was just the culmination of the competition judged by Ashley Sloat, director of patent strategy at Aurora Consulting; Bill Myers, CEO at Promethient; Jay Meldrum, Executive Director of the Keweenaw Research Center and liaison to the Grand Traverse area; and Elizabeth Saunders; Georgetown University student and TCNewTech double champion.
“Your pitches were better than some pitches I’ve seen from seasoned inventors,” Sloat said before announcing the final order of finish as the lead judge, following a deliberation.
In addition to winning the competition, Team Wok-Cell had a prototype on display outside the City Opera House stage.
“It was a great evening,” Newton’s Road Programs Director Barb Termaat said in a Tuesday morning email. “I especially loved the networking after the winners were announced.”
More than 50 students were the part of the competition, which included process documentation and draft pitch presentations pre-scored by the judges. Teams decided who represented their school on stage for the finale. The pitch presentation scores were added to the pre-score elements.