WHIZ KIDS

You Don't Want to Compete with this Kidby John Jonelis

You don’t want to compete with this kid. Believe me. Just watch his intensity as he pitches his business to some of the private equity luminaries in the city. I’m a judge at this event and try not to show my feelings of awe as he answers all the tough questions in a pressure-cooker environment without so much as a flinch. There’s an intimidating team behind him too. They’re all in middle school. Middle school!

These guys offer a new white-label web browser that’s secure from hackers at WiFi hotspots. It’s up-and-running and they’ve got the moxie to ask $100K for 15% of their company! These are potential recruits for IMSA – the vigorous live-in statewide high school for the best and the brightest.

You don't want to compete with this kid 2

And that kid over there—the one quietly sitting in the background? The IT department at IMSA is afraid of that one. “Some IMSA students try to hack the system,” says Carl Heine of TALENT, “but if this kid comes to the academy, we’ll have to keep him close. He’s the real deal.”

SecuritumFive other teams like this one pitch today and they’re all wonderful. I’ve seen IMSA students put adults to shame but hey—this is way over the top! Once again, the TALENT program proves that children can outperform adults in one of the toughest games in town—a grueling pursuit that demands everything you can put out and then asks for more.

I ask you—can you imagine doing that when you were in 7th or 8th grade? At that age, a pop quiz seemed like a big deal. I certainly had no dream of running a business back then. What we have here is a roomful of truly extraordinary individuals coached by wonderful teachers. I’d like to hire them to create and build the next big company. Problem is they’re still minors.

PitchThis event is part of an intensive one-week immersion camp held at 1871—a program geared to teach what an entrepreneur goes through by personal experience. These kids pitch real companies only 3 days into the program. Three days to form a group, put together a business plan and prepare the pitches we hear today. Three days! When I look at the quality of the output, it seems impossible. But I’m here watching it happen. Give credit to IMSA’s selection process. Give credit to Carl Heine, Jim Gerry, and a brilliant TALENT organization with their finely crafted template.

It’s our job as judges to challenge these kids with real business questions. And we do. All of them respond well. We’re asked to rate them on specific categories, and yes, TALENT provides us with an organized matrix to keep score. Here’s their Pitch Rubric:Judges

  • Pain Point – Do they understand and describe it clearly? Yup.
  • Market Research – Is it clear and complete? Looks that way to me.
  • Competition – Have they identified and clearly expressed their competitive advantage? Yes sir.
  • Product – Do they have a compelling prototype? A prototype? After 3 days! Hey, these kids already have working products! This ain’t your science fair back home, Chumley!
  • Business Model – What’s the go-to-market strategy? What is the likelihood it will be profitable? Chances look pretty good from here.
  • Presentation – Does it convincingly cover all the bases? Yeah. That it does.
  • Questions – Do the answers make you want to invest?

Yes, yes, and yes! The event ends and we meet everybody. In a moment of irrational exuberance, I hand my card to a boy and say I’d like to see him pitch to my angel group. Forgive me. I sometimes forget myself. First school, then the business world. Gotta keep those two straight. ♦

 

Photo credits IMSA.

To contact IMSA TALENT: Britta McKenna, Chief Innovation Officer bmckenna@imsa.edu

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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2014 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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