Feb. 9, 2023
A sophomore with the idea of creating a battery-powered bucket that can treat impure water to make it safe to drink was selected as the winner of this year’s Culver Academies Elevator Pitch Competition sponsored by The Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur.
Solinna Onwochei ’25 of Kalamazoo, Michigan, won the $400 first prize for her idea of creating a bucket that would purify water that people in poorer countries get from rivers and lakes. She said the bucket would warm the water and instill it with water-purification powder to reduce the risk of people contracting various water-borne diseases.
“If we’re able to spread and contribute to my idea, I feel that many countries that have struggled with this global issue for many years will finally be able to thrive and succeed,” Onwochei said in her 60-second digitally recorded elevator pitch.
The $200 second prize was awarded to Meagan Feick ’24 of Culver and Dylan Hamilton ’25 of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, who came up with the idea of an app called “Scan” that would allow users to scan the complicated ingredients in skin care and other products to explain in plain language what each ingredient is and what it does. The students said the app would warn users of possible allergic reactions or cancer risks.
The app also would give each product a grade of A to F to let users know how good it is for their skin.
“Several studies have shown that certain products can lead to bad breakouts and allergic reactions, and even some have been linked to cancer,” Hamilton said in the elevator pitch.
“It is so important to know what you’re putting on your skin and what it is doing to it,” Feick said.
The goal of the contest was for students to come up with ideas to solve a problem or headache they observe in the world, said Kennedy Burlison ’24 of Marco Island, Florida, who worked with Brit Crockett ’25 of Johnson City, Tennessee, to organize the competition.
J.D. Uebler, director of The Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur, and Ed Kelley, a master instructor in The Rubin School, challenged the students, who are ambassadors for The Rubin School, to reinvigorate the competition after receiving only five submissions last year.
Burlison and Crockett determined that one obstacle for students was having the competition at a set time, because many students at Culver have such busy schedules. They also thought some students might be intimidated by making pitches in front of a crowd.
So this year, students were allowed to digitally record their pitches. They had from 7:45 a.m. Monday until 7 p.m. Tuesday to submit their ideas.
“The idea is to bring in young entrepreneurs with their ideas without high stakes. They can make a video in the comfort of their own rooms so they don’t have to worry about talking in front of people or worrying about people making fun of them for their idea,” Burlison said.
The changes did draw more submissions. They received a total of 15 submissions, with one student submitting five ideas. The pitches ranged from a pillow with an adjustable air bag to a sleep-aid blanket that assesses a person’s sleep patterns and body temperature to create perfect sleep conditions and monitors a person’s heart rate, to a device to air out sweaty hockey and lacrosse equipment, to an app that encourages teenagers to get off social media by posting a different task to do each day.
Uebler said having the students work on the competition gave them a chance to learn about organization and marketing.
The idea of trying to solve a pain-point or a headache comes from the class Foundations in Innovation, taught by Kelley.
Uebler said the primary purpose of the competition was for the contestants to be driven to solve a problem, not the goal of making a lot of money. The competition, first held in 2012, was open to all Culver Academies students.
The contest was judged by four students: Burlison, Crockett, and two more student ambassadors, Helli Kemmler ’24 of Culver and Aidan Cartmel ’25 of Mercer Island, Washington, and Kelley and Uebler. The submissions were graded on creativity, impact on the issue, proof that the idea will solve the stated headache, and clarity of presentation.
Contestants didn’t have to determine the cost of their idea or come up with ways of paying for the invention or marketing campaigns.
“You don’t need to have the financials or know how it’s going to be manufactured. It’s just an idea you’re throwing out there to have other people maybe help you expand upon that idea,” Burlison said.
Uebler said future competitions could include calling for students to create social entrepreneurship or environmental entrepreneurship campaigns.
“So many times entrepreneurism is defined as a capital endeavor. ‘Let’s just make as much money as we can,’ ” Uebler said. “But we also want our students to be thinking about: ‘What is the impact on community.”