Local high school students with an idea to help digitize a communication network among fire stations statewide took home one of two top prizes earlier this month at the Diamond Challenge entrepreneurship competition held at CSC’s global headquarters in Wilmington.
Caravel Academy sophomore Samrath Singh, himself a volunteer firefighter, has witnessed problems posed by poorly coordinated communication tools during his time ‘on the job.’
And teammate Arjan Kahlon, a sophomore at the Charter School of Wilmington, had discussed the persistent and widespread use of paper fire maps with a neighbor and former Hockessin volunteer firefighter who is now a New York City firefighter.
Teaming up with Katherine Berkner, a sophomore at Charter School of Wilmington, this team of three friends from childhood was able to form a team to pitch their business concept, which they call Incendium.
“It was astonishing to me that the technology on my cellphone was better than the technology available to firefighters,” said Kahlon. “We wanted to create a tool that helped to remedy these issues by digitizing these valuable resources, thus helping first responders in their jobs.”
“I was honestly lucky that I had first-hand experience as a volunteer firefighter and could see the problems they had and come up with a pretty unique solution,” said Singh. He and his teammates came up with a subscription-based platform that can assist fire stations all throughout the state. “Incendium organizes all the information from multiple fire stations into one big network,” said Singh.
Singh and teammate Katherine Berkner, a student at Charter School of Wilmington, were two of dozens of students who were eager to share their ingenuity and spirit of invention at the Delaware Youth Leadership Network‘s (DYLN) March 7th event. While this marked the eighth anniversary of the Diamond Challenge, this was the second year the program was hosted by DYLN.
While most participants at this local pitch event were from schools around the First State, the Diamond Challenge is open to students around the globe, and many traveled to Delaware to participate. (Other Diamond Challenge events were also held during the month around the world.)
The event features two entrepreneurship pitch lanes – business innovation and social innovation – and the seven judges were senior people at important techonology, innovation lab and start-up companies in the state.
Eighteen teams participated in this round of the competition and presented their ideas to a panel of judges. Each team was given five minutes to pitch their idea and three minutes for the judges’ questions. Incendium took home the top prize in the “social innovation” category.
Incendium’s Berkner said she suspects the amount of time their team rehearsed their pitch made a difference with the judges. “The biggest thing is practice, practice, practice. Enjoy what you’re doing, enjoy the presentation, be passionate about what you are presenting, and it’ll show in your presentation,” she said. The Incendium team now advances to the Diamond Challenge Summit, which will take place virtually next month, April 17 – 18.
Gary Johnson III, the guest speaker for the event, shared his story about his own entrepreneurship journey. Johnson, originally from Caravel Academy and now part of University of Delaware’s Horn Entrepreneurship program, explained his various failures and success stories regarding the many pitch events he has attended and taken part in.
His main idea was that you can always find a way to win in your own way. He recalled one particular pitch that turned out well despite knowing he wasn’t going to win. Johnson said he was approached afterward by a judge who offered him a job and a scholarship involving helping young entrepreneurs.
Johnson now runs First Founders Accelerator, a 12-week program catering to young, under-represented students to teach them about entrepreneurship and how to pitch ideas.
For the business innovation track, Buzz Brella is moving forward to the Diamond Challenge Summit with an idea that will revolutionize the music experience on the beach. The members of this team from Midlothian, Virginia experienced the struggles of playing music while on the beach this past summer.
They found that sand often got into their Bluetooth speaker, ruining their overall vacationing experience. Buzz Brella is a product integrating a music player into the beach umbrella. This would protect the speaker from the sand as well as enhance the overall music experience.
Buzz Brella founders Cassidy Collins and Claire Hollingsworth are involved in their school’s entrepreneurship program. Inspired by the problems they were facing while relaxing on the beach, they took initiative and decided to create their own solution.
Other participants described this event as “a great experience — would highly recommend to any ambitious high schooler looking to make their impact on the world.”
TeenSharp, which provides better college access and leadership development to underrepresented students, sent three students to the Diamond Challenge pitch. Jonathan Birgen, from MOT Charter, was one of them. He explained how he felt “a lot of pressure coming into the event, but had felt a lot calmer, a lot more ready once arriving.”
David Miller, of Mount Pleasant High School, said, “I thought this was fun. The group emphasized how much of a learning experience it was for all three of them and how it had motivated them to keep trying to take their idea, and future ideas further.”
This is the second year Pei and Jennings have led the planning and execution of the Diamond Challenge event. In charge of just about everything at the event from the pitches themselves to the food being served, the pair worked hard to pull off the success of the event.
Jennings said this year they made improvements in timing. “We were able to figure out where time could be redistributed… and really just make the day smoother overall.”
When asked if they could give any advice for next year’s peer mentors to run the event, Jennings said, “Don’t let failure be a setback,” describing how they were able to find sponsors and donations by never giving up and working hard at collecting them. Pei also said, “Be persistent, and work hard at it.”
Diamond Challenge helped students draw from their personal experiences, identify problems, and brainstorm business-based solutions. Students said that the competition taught them to think about all the obstacles to launching their products or ideas and challenged them to come up with feasible, scalable solutions.