Look to kids for entrepreneurial inspiration

The inaugural EntrepreneurshipweekUSA, which took place from Feb. 24 – March 3, was by all measures a national success. Sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation, The New York Times and Inc. magazine, this program engaged countless students, businesspeople, policy makers, academics and celebrities to celebrate our country’s entrepreneurial spirit and energize Americans about that which truly differentiates our economy from all others. At the National Venture Capital Association, we were incredibly pleased with the magnitude of the response to the program.

Of course, as venture capitalists, we are focused on the “super-sized” entrepreneur who is thinking big. Because of the typical venture funding model, our industry is less compatible with arranging funding for the woman who wants to open a corner dry cleaner than we are for funding the woman who wants to change the way clothes are cleaned across the country. But, independent of our model, it is important to recognize that there are many forms of entrepreneurship and that many, while not applicable to venture funding, are still able to provide tremendous careers as well as growth for our economy and competitiveness for our nation.

While entrepreneurship is alive and prospering around the world, our nation has clearly been in the lead for many decades when it comes to cultural, financial and legislative support for entrepreneurship. It is a phenomenon we must celebrate as well as protect; and the place to begin is with our children.

As part of EntrepreneurshipWeekUSA, we asked K-12 students from across the country to share with us their “Big Ideas” in an essay program. The students were asked to develop a product, service or business that would solve a problem. During the week, NVCA members visited classrooms to hear from the students, provide feedback and talk about venture capital. The feasibility of the ideas ranged widely, but the excitement generated from the project was universal. In responding to one student’s idea of a “flying carpet,” NVCA Board Member Salem Shuchman summed up our credo best by responding: “If you had told me a century ago that people would be able to fly in heavy, metal machines, I would have laughed. Anything is possible.”

And while many of the ideas have a ways to go in terms of development and commercial availability, just as many were entirely possible to bring to market today. To wit, here are a few excerpts from some of the most innovative concepts in the words of the kids themselves:

Fire truck advertising

As part of EntrepreneurshipWeekUSA, we asked K-12 students from across the country to share with us their ‘Big Ideas’ in an essay program.”

Heidi Roizen, Board Member, NVCA

There are millions of drivers in the United States. They drive at all different speeds and unfortunately normally multi-task while driving, but every single one stops and pays full attention when a fire truck drives by. A fire truck has bright lights and loud noises to alert every vehicle it is coming, just like advertisers crave! Drivers must pull over and wait until they see the truck go by ensuring eye contact. My idea is to set up a website where fire companies could auction off available space on their trucks. It would be a win-win for both the advertisers, because they get desirable space, and fire companies, because it is an easy way to raise money. The new money could be used for retired firemen’s pensions and would cut down on taxes. Overall, I feel this idea is not very difficult or complex and could be an efficient way to give a little money to the unsung heroes of our country. —AJ Josephs

Nutrition patch

People today, like teens and adults, mostly care about how they look and feel. My big idea is to create something that can show your calorie intake, calcium, protein and fat you took in one day. Having my big idea around can show the amount of fat they take in and more people get disgusted by the number that shows up and they will eventually stop eating the unhealthy food. —Sylvia Doan

Global Positioning System Cart

The GPSC (Global Positioning System Cart) is a shopping cart that you can drive in stores that has GPS so you don’t have to search for items you want.… An electric engine powers the cart. You sit in a seat that heats your back and bottom (while you’re in the freezer aisle.) Above the steering wheel is a GPS. You key in what you want to find and it tells you what aisle to go to. The GPSC can be specially programmed for each store. —David Lanciano and Torben Spring

The Viewer

My idea is called The Viewer. It is an invention for blind people. It helps them be independent because it does the viewing for them. The main component is a walking stick which tells the user where s/he is. The walking stick has an electronic antenna with a GPS. It communicates with the person through an electronic speaker…. It would help them a lot because it would say “turn left in five steps” or any other direction. It would say for example, “Stop. It’s a red light.” —Neal Geosits

Resistance Paint

Resistance Paint would help to solve the problems of various forms of vandalism and graffiti. I’m pretty sure there is a specific chemical or specific bonding within permanent markers and spray paint that help the paint to cling to its walls or surfaces. With the Resistance Chemical, it could be poured into pre-made paint mixtures which make the paint entirely resistant to abuses. —Ryan Goh

The CASBAW

The name of my invention is the CASBAW, or Catch And Shoot Ball And Wristband. This invention solves the problem of chasing down your rebounds when you are shooting alone. Many people that play basketball feel the need to practice shooting and lose large amounts of time chasing down their rebounds. It works by pressing a little button on the wristband. Once this button is pressed the magnetic sensor in the ball will trigger and the ball will magnetically be returned to the person with the wristband. It will be returned just like a pass from a teammate. —Michael Clark

The Laser-Cure for brain cancer

In responding to one student’s idea of a ‘flying carpet,’ NVCA Board Member Salem Shuchman summed up our credo best by responding: ‘If you had told me a century ago that people would be able to fly in heavy, metal machines, I would have laughed. Anything is possible.’”

Heidi Roizen, Board Member, NVCA

My invention will revolutionize the way brain cancer is treated. I am going to invent a surgical tool that will separate the tumor from the brain before brain cancer can develop. This invention will be called The Laser-Cure. You will turn on The Laser-Cure and use its X-Ray feature to find the tumor. Once you locate the tumor, you will use the ultrasonic laser feature to separate the tumor from the brain without harming the natural brain tissue. The beauty of this surgical procedure is there is no pain endured and there will be no loss of blood. My grandma was diagnosed with a brain tumor and my ideas for this invention will hopefully be manufactured and used in the near future to help people like my grandma. —Sonia Singh

Artistracks Home Recording System

My idea is for an entirely simple, onboard home recording system for computers. In order for a home recording musician to record quality CD music, he or she has to invest in expensive equipment such as a recording program, microphones, amplifiers, outboard rack effect processors … and none of this actually guarantees that he or she is going to attain the desired sound and quality. There are programs out there that allow musicians to record music. All of these programs would cost thousands of dollars, which not many home musicians can afford. My idea combines all of these things into one large, simple program. —Shawn Yates

There are a multitude of organizations across the country—such as the Kauffman Foundation, NFTE, Bizworld, FIRST and BUILD—whose missions are to foster creative thinking and entrerpreneurship in young people. It is this type of thinking that will sustain our competitive advantage going forward. The venture industry must find ways to support these ongoing efforts.

Lending our time to listen to and encourage new ideas is an important contribution. Perhaps it is also time for educational leaders to embrace entrepreneurship as core to the K-12 curriculum so that we may further inspire and empower our country’s youth and grant them access to the tools they need to bring their big ideas to life.

Heidi Roizen is a Managing Director of Mobius Venture Capital, a venture fund with over $2 billion under management, focused on early stage technology companies. She serves on the boards of Reactrix, Ecast, Perpetual Entertainment and AuctionDrop. She also serves on the board of the NVCA, where she is on the Executive Committee and chairs the MAGNET initiative on national competitiveness. She may be reached at hroizen@mobiusvc.com.