Park Creek School fourth-grader Naomi Adams participated in this year’s PitchDIA (Dalton Innovation Accelerator) contest in part to overcome her “stage fright,” and she had more confidence in herself — a familiar feeling among student participants — after presenting reusable stickers with her classmate Milli Gonzalez last week in the first round of this year’s competition.

“That wasn’t as bad as I thought” it would be, Park Creek fourth-grader Jesus Lopez said after his presentation alongside classmates Adan Estrada, Bryan Quintero and Nicholas Vasquez. “It was fun,” and he’d do it again.

“We were nervous and excited,” said Hammond Creek Middle School sixth-grader Madison Stanley, who pitched with her classmates Kamela Goodlett, Perla Hernandez and Mackenzie Koger. “We had a little stage fright, but we got over it.”

Estrada, Lopez, Quintero and Vasquez were already friends, so they figured they’d team up for the Pitch contest, and each team member had a role, Lopez said. Quintero, for example, “is the builder” who will “do our prototype,” if necessary.

More than 30 teams from seven schools in the Dalton Public Schools system pitched their innovative ideas to judges Feb. 17 at Hammond Creek Middle School, according to Nick Sun, director of school support for Dalton Public Schools.

The judges were:

  • Lauren Holverson, executive director of the Dalton Innovation Accelerator, a business incubator that provides startup firms and small nonprofit organizations with office space, mentorship and support services.
  • AJ Jackson, president of Alarm City.
  • Deanna Mathis, director of community outreach and corporate giving for Shaw Industries.
  • Stephani Womack, director of the Education Partnership with Believe Greater Dalton.

The judges scored the teams based on questions like:

  • What are they selling, and how does it work?
  • What problem is being solved?
  • What demand is being met or need being filled?
  • Whom are they selling to?
  • Is the solution desirable?
  • Is this what people want?

Students competed for 15 spots to move into the next round, and each of those teams will receive $200 to help with their prototypes, Sun said. They’ll also receive help from community members.

They’ll then create a video of their pitch, submit a prototype and present a business plan, Sun said. The top six, as determined by judges later this spring, will “pitch live at the community’s celebration of entrepreneurial spirit,” the PitchDIA contest on May 17, with those who didn’t land in the top six also at the event with booths to showcase their ideas.

‘Cool and inspiring’

“We want to go to the next competition,” Adams said. “We want (to do) something cool and inspiring.”

Adams and Gonzalez “like to put stickers” on anything they can, but “sometimes they rip,” and they can leave residue on surfaces, Adams said. “We’d make our (stickers) out of strong plastic, (so) it’s easy to take off.”

Estrada, Lopez, Quintero and Vasquez pitched flavored pacifiers for babies.

Estrada’s younger sibling will often “throw his pacifier and cry and cry,” he said, and it’s a similar tale with Vazquez’s baby sister, he said, which led to the idea.

“It doesn’t spoil,” Lopez said. Freeze it nightly, then thaw it so it’s not too cold for babies.

Fellow fourth-grader Alondra Salaises had an idea borne out of her frustration with dental braces she had put on a couple of months ago, she said. Her quasi-retainer “you put on over your braces will protect your braces so you can eat anything you want.”

She’s had difficulty with “anything I like that is hard, salty or sour,” from Takis chips to Snickers bars, she said. “The caramel sometimes messes up my braces.”

Breaking brackets leads to a longer period with braces, which “nobody wants,” Salaises said. “You’d brush it” to clean it, or even floss it.

Goodlett, Hernandez, Koger, and Stanley pitched a clip that both helps children learn how to tie their shoes and keeps them tied. Purchasers could also buy accessories, like charms, for the clips.

Stanley’s mother teaches kindergartners with special needs, and she explained that tying shoes is the problem she contends with most often on a daily basis, Stanley said. “We need a solution for this,” and the 10 teachers the group surveyed all said they’d appreciate this innovation for their students.

Goodlett’s mother used to teach pre-kindergaten, and she seconded that notion, Goodlett said.

“This would help kids and adults.”

The Clip-It “looks like a hair clip,” and it would be available in a variety of colors and designs, with a pack of three for $10, Goodlett said. Magnets would be included for the accessories, like charms, so they remain attached to the Clip-It.

They’d create a website and sell their invention from there, Koger said.

“That way, you get to keep all the money,” Holverson said approvingly.

Students will compete separately from adults on May 17 in the PitchDIA contest.

Tripp Phillips, then a seventh-grade student at Dalton Middle School, won the inaugural PitchDIA contest in 2018 with his Le-Glue product, a non-permanent glue that holds Legos and other building blocks together without damaging them. Later that year, he went on “Shark Tank,” the ABC television show on which PitchDIA is based, and reached a deal with investor Kevin O’Leary to buy into his company.

Critterbox, an automated live bait feeding process marketed toward reptile owners that comes with a mobile app allowing owners to feed their pets from anywhere, won the second edition of the contest in 2019. The PitchDIA contest was not held in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘A lot of potential’

Several ideas Feb. 17 had “a lot of potential, and we’d like to see if they could go to market with more development,” Holverson said. “We’ll connect (teams who advanced) with mentors for guidance.”

Westwood School led the pack with five teams advancing to the final 15, followed by Hammond Creek, with three, a pair from both Brookwood School and Dalton Junior High School, and one from Blue Ridge School, City Park School and Park Creek School.

Ideas that moved on to the final 15 ranged from an advanced self-watering plant pot that connects to an app so a person can water his or her plants from anywhere at any time (from Hammond Creek’s Lillian Bowers, Mary Susan Broadrick, Kate Harrison and Wells Wilkerson) to a wrapper that uses a spinning mechanism to wrap gifts (Westwood’s Ellie Allen, Danna Camacho and Joslyn Curtis) to a comfort grip for a bow that also prevents sweating (Westwood’s Branton Bray and Davis Witt) to a basketball-playing robot that would eliminate the need for a partner to play basketball with (Westwood’s Trae’shon Bonds and King Carson).

“Your foundation has to be a good idea, and their creativity never fails to impress me,” Mathis said. “Even if they don’t all go on to become entrepreneurs, they’re learning excellent life skills” by participating in this competition.

Dalton Daily Citizen staff writer Charles Oliver contributed to this story.

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