Lloyd Corder - 3rd Grade Shark Tank

Yesterday, in front of 100 screaming Avonworth Elementary students in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I got to judge a dozen finalist teams who came up with ideas to solve everyday problems, built their first prototype and made a commercial, billboard or other advertisement to promote it. I was looking forward to this all week!

I heard about car washes that clean under your vehicle, wiggly designed forks that make eating spaghetti easier, a mat that dries wet feet so you don’t track up the house and a scented towel called “Smell the Better” that you can use to pick up after your dog (shown in the photo above).

I told these students how proud I was of all of them and that they should all keep working on their ideas. It’s the same process for virtually every business. To build a product, you come up with an idea or prototype, get some target market feedback about it, look for funders, build it then promote the heck out of it. I told these kids that this was the kind of work I do all day long at my company and when I’m teaching at Carnegie Mellon University or the University of Pittsburgh.

The winners:

  • 3rd Place…Shoes You Can Customize. A team of young girls showed how different material straps—held on with Velcro—could be changed to match whatever you were wearing that day. This fashion statement transformed one pair of shoes into several dozen, saving money and closet space.
  • 2nd Place…Stacked Hangers. Everyone’s seen multiple hangers for your pants, but this team built a prototype that would hold three different shirts, freeing up that valuable closet space. I asked them how many of them had clean rooms at home. My favorite was a young lady that said, “Mine is not…it looks like a tornado went through it.” Her poor parents.
  • 1st Place…Peanut Butter Jar with 2 Lids. A young girl, who worked by herself, explained that getting all of the peanut butter out of the bottom of the jar was always difficult. I asked why she worked alone, “Because no one else liked my idea,” she said. She built a working prototype that had two lids, one on top of the jar and one on the bottom.
    I told her the reason I liked this idea the best was because of how important packaging is in marketing products. Think about it. The canned food aisle is the most boring aisle in the grocery store. A peanut butter jar with two lids might move market share! Plus, when I told others about her invention later that day, the typical response was, “Oh, that’s a great idea. I would buy that!”

At the end of the competition, I asked all of the students what they call someone who makes successful products like the ones they came up with. They listened very carefully as I said, “You call them rich!” which brought on a lot of smiles and laughter.

I don’t know if there are any young inventors or entrepreneurs in your life. If there are, please encourage them. Who knows, they may end up making all of our lives easier and better.