Junior Achievement Business BlastoffEvery February, Junior Achievement of the Space Coast (JA) holds its annual Business Blastoff Challenge, bringing together Brevard high school students in a product development competition culminating in a presentation similar to “Shark Tank.” On February 13, 23 entries from 5 high schools met at FIT for the preliminary rounds. Teams presented their concepts, marketing ideas, financials and even working prototypes when possible to pitch a team of judges. Each team consisted of from one to six members. They were judged based on their short product and “ask” videos, PowerPoint presentations, actual product prototypes, pitch to the judges (posing as potential investors) and the viability of their financials. From the 33 entries, five were selected to advance to the final round at the Cocoa Village Playhouse on February 20. The judges for the final presentations were Jim Barfield, president and CEO of Luke & Associates as well as Brevard County Commission member; Leslie Tibbets, vice president of Bank of America; attorney Mark Malek, CEO and managing partner of Widerman Malek; and Jim Clamons, retired vice president of engineering of Harris Corporation. Anne Conroy-Baiter of JA was the host and emcee for the night, hosted by Bank of America, Certified General Contractors, Balda Family Foundation, Florida Tech and The Viera Company.

This year’s winning presentation was from TransportEZ. A Bayside High School team, TransportEZ is Riley Snyder, Joseph Harmon and Chris Zarraonandia. Led by their teacher Aaron Mitchell and JA Volunteer Larry McIntyre, TransportEZ presented a portable lap desk for students that easily connects to backpack straps allowing work to be done anywhere while on the go.

Snyder said, “It was pretty cool, being able to basically make our own business from an idea we had, and JA allowed us to have that opportunity.” Harmon added to that, mentioning, “We got to spend months as a team, preparing for a large project. Got to the finals, which was a surprise. Some of the competition had me a little worried.”

Since the finals, the young men have been talking to Malek, a patent attorney, and even a chiropractor about making sure their product was safe. The team was asked to speak at the recent Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame Dinner, “and on the bus, going back to the cars, he wanted to look at our product, to verify if it was actually good for posture,” added Zarraonandia. “Another guest that night came to us and said that he might be a potential investor if we did want to take our company any farther.”

When asked if they’d like to see this product actually come to market, the three added, “I think it would be great,” “That would be cool, very cool,” and of course, “I’ve had at least ten situations in the last week where I would have loved to have one with me.” These young entreprenuers have a bright future ahead, and they’ll be able to work on a desktop wherever they go. ◆