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WCHS wins Shark Tank-inspired contest

Posted on: 06.30.2018 at 03:00 p.m.

By Margaret High

margarethigh@nrcolumbus.com

Six minutes. That’s all it took for a group of AP Statistic students from West Columbus High School to convince a panel of judges their product was worth investing in.

Hang Free Hammocks, the idea and name of the group, won first place at UNCW’s Third Annual Chancellor’s High School Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition on April 21 in the social enterprise (non-profit) track. The group beat out 17 other competitors, winning $1,500 and a newfound confidence in its ability to use statistics in real-life application.

Hang Free Hammocks is a project that takes donated clothes that haven’t been used for a while and creates hammocks out of them. The idea was to use underutilized clothing donations and benefit homeless shelters with cleaner, safer ways to house those they serve.

The other West Columbus group placed third in the business concept (for profit) track with their idea, “Safe Trigger,” and won $500.

“It is a great reflection on the students,” Amanda Leggett, the teacher who suggested the competition, said. “It took a lot of ingenuity to come up with those ideas. When I was a senior, I don’t think I could come up with those ideas.”

The groups are splitting the money among their respective six members to support their college endeavors.

Hang Free Hammocks students wanted to use the money for start-up costs, but found it difficult to continue their idea as they spread out to different areas.

“Some of us have talked about making it a reality,” Greyanna Booth, a member of Hang Free Hammocks, said. “But all of us are going on different paths right now, so we haven’t figured that out quite yet.”

Booth is a rising freshman at N.C. State University, where she is majoring in fisheries and wildlife conservation biology. The competition exposed her to business, a career path she’d never considered before, according to Booth.

The AP Stats class is taught by W.T. Edwards, who said he’s always had a final project in the class modeled after Shark Tank, a popular television show on ABC that features a panel of investors listening to various entrepreneurs.

“It was really an exciting thing because I’ve always loved the TV show Shark Tank,” Edwards said. “I’ve always loved math and statistics. It was exciting to see them just take hold of it.”

Had Edwards known earlier about the competition, West Columbus would have been in it every year, he said.

Hang Free Hammocks consisted of Nicole McClary, Jordan Nance, Booth, Kasey Collins, Annela Tiffany and Chana Brown.

Safe Trigger consisted of Ashlynn Dickerson, Alexis Bowen, Kaylyn Horne, Timothy Soles, Carrington Jones and Zachiria Lane.

“We were thinking of issues and how we could help things that were a big probelm,” Booth said. “So we realized that homelessness was a big problem and tried to find a solution.”

The simple idea took a lot of planning, Booth said. Hammocks require a special type of wax to help sustain the elements, and areas hardest hit with homelessness are urban cities, which typically don’t have many trees to hang the hammocks. Their project required innovative thinking to overcome some of these obstacles.

After an initial three-minute submission video to UNCW’s panel, WCHS learned it was in the top three around the end of March. Then, the students only had a month to put together the final product.

“I really didn’t do any part for them,” Edwards said. “And that was a cause of much frustration. They didn’t have hardly any direction and they came up with something that would really impact the world.”

At UNCW, the presentations were set up like the show Shark Tank. The panel of judges sat in front of a projector screen that groups used to show their presentations. They asked questions during the six-minute timeslot and pushed each member on their knowledge of the project.

Other schools present were Topsail, Laney, Hoggard and Isaac Bear Early College.

“We were kind of comparing the fact we only had 430 students, max,” Edwards said. “It was a really big deal, and they didn’t realize the impact until after the fact.”

The other group, Safe Trigger, attempted to develop a way to have thumb print or facial recognition on guns to unlock them.

“It was right after the Florida shooting and they were trying to figure out a product that would only recognize the owner to unlock it,” Edwards said. “That way, only the person that the gun is registered under can use it, not someone else that will do who knows what with it.”

Both groups had to stand in front of the panel, present their ideas and back their findings with statistics. Seated behind the panel were the rest of the competitors and other viewers. There were roughly 75 people in the room, Edwards said.

Beyond mathematical application, students had exposure to public speaking. Edwards said it really helped with the students’ confidence.

“It actually made the class more fun,” Booth said. “I’m not really a math person. When he first talked about (the project), we were all like, ‘Oh man, do we really have to do this?’”

The project also exposed students to business concepts in ways they hadn’t been exposed before, Edwards said. During the initial stages of the projects, students sent surveys out to other classes to complete and receive feedback. From there, they got their hands dirty and started to figure out the details.

“(The surveys) kind of worked to where other teachers learned about it,” Edwards said. “They would come and try to be a resource. It kind of evolved to more than just me.”

Both groups talked to the WCHS guidance counselor, Michele Hager, other teachers and local business owners about ideas for their projects.

“I definitely think they became more confident and it opened up some real-world possibilities,” Amanda Leggett said. “It opened their thinking to real-world issues going on outside the four walls of the school. They weren’t just thinking, ‘I’ve got to do this for a grade.’”

Edwards says in the future, he sees his AP Statistics class returning to the competition. He wouldn’t be opposed to a club being created, but for now he’s happy that his students got valuable application of the material they learned in class. All the students are hopeful about their AP Statistics scores, which won’t come back until later this summer.

“Anything you set your mind to, you can do,” Booth said. “Don’t knock something until you try it, because I thought I was going to hate this.”

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