The statewide Innovate WithIN pitch competition is celebrating a record number of applicants with around 2,300 high school students applying, compared to just 815 last year. The competition, the largest of its kind in the country, is designed to give young innovators the chance to see problems as opportunities. Teams of students compete for $25,000 in seed funding for their business, as well as up to $10,000 in tuition to any Indiana college or university and other prizes.
Don Wettrick, chief executive officer of the STARTedUP Foundation, joined Indiana Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers to discuss the program’s growth on Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick.
The competition launched in 2018 with about 100 applicants. Wettrick says the surge in applicants is due to a variety of reasons.
“A lot of times, it’s the prize package. It’s the student word of mouth. It’s the teachers that are getting involved,” said Wettrick. “We have 16 universities that are providing scholarships, everything from round 1 to the state finals; we have a few colleges providing full rides this year. It’s those kinds of incentives, plus the opportunity to travel. So, we’re trying to surpass those expectations with not just a one-time pitch, speech competition, but really get them plugged into the economy and find great mentors and find great support throughout the state.”
An alumni association has also been formed through the competition to help get students plugged into international opportunities, according to Wettrick.
Wettrick credits the state’s education system and focus on innovation for the success of the program over the past several years.
“Our message is ‘see problems as opportunities’ and our students are finding great opportunities, from anything an app can help, to an event, to a service, to a product. They’re wanting to create real value for our citizens.”
Wettrick adds the competition makes a statement about the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Indiana.
“When you go onto round 2, you have to meet with your Small Business Development Center. We have so many mentors throughout the state. We have great companies that are based year that yeah, investors are starting to get involved. As a matter of fact, one of our teams last year just got a venture backed deal at age 18. So, I think it’s that support and it’s that momentum that we’re seeing.”
Last year’s competition was won by Southern Indiana Bait Co., founded by Salem High School students Zion and Xavier Dunaway.