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Utah County high school students excel at Lassonde entrepreneur challenge

By Karissa Neely daily Herald - | May 18, 2016
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From left, Ephraim Ong, Devin Johannesmeyer and Logan Lawson pitch their business, iCityCenter, to judges at the High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute on May 14, 2016.

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Ephraim Ong, right, explains his team's business, iCityCenter, to spectators at the High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute on May 14, 2016.

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Ephraim Ong, right, and Devin Johannesmeyer, center explain their business, iCityCenter, to a spectator at the High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute on May 14, 2016.

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Logan Lawson, left, explains his team's business, iCityCenter, to spectators at the High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute on May 14, 2016.

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Benjamin McGee poses with his business idea, PhoneCheck, at the High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute on May 14, 2016.

Teens in Utah County continually do all sorts of remarkable things, and four Orem high schoolers joined their ranks, demonstrating their impressive business acumen over the weekend.

Devin Johannesmeyer, Ephraim Ong and Logan Lawson — all freshmen at Karl G. Maeser Preparatory Academy in Orem — and Benjamin McGee, a 17-year-old who graduated early from Mountain View High School in Orem, pitched their business ideas as part of Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute’s inaugural 2016 High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge.

They were two of the top 16 teams from a pool of 68 statewide, and were invited to Saturday’s final High School Entrepreneur Challenge Showcase. Though their business ideas didn’t earn the top award, they all feel they are further along in their entrepreneurial pursuits than a few months ago.

iCityCenter

Devin, Ephraim and Logan were the team behind iCityCenter, an app-based business that joins cities, residents, local businesses and waste management company all behind one common purpose: recycling. In their business model, waste management companies will pay into the app to build their own recycling efforts, and local businesses will pay for advertising to tie their company to the green movement. Cities and residents will use the app at no cost. Cities will promote recycling, minimizing their own “tipping fees” — fees they must pay when a resident contaminates their recycle load with unrecyclables. In turn, the app will have powerful education tools, and potentially rewards, for residents that will encourage correct recycling practices.

“People aren’t recycling all that they can recycle. But in our research, if just one state, California, increased their recycling to 75 percent of what they can, that would provide 110,000 more jobs — driving, dumping, sorting, machinery operation, maintenance and management,” Devin said.

“We found that one ton of trash provides one job, and one ton of recycling creates nine jobs,” Logan added.

In the beginning stages just a few months ago, they initially approached local waste management and recycling companies about their app ideas, and were surprised by how much support they received. The trio already has had investment offers, and the app is still in beta form.

“The companies we talked to were already thinking of making an app, so they want to pilot ours,” Devin said.

Logan spent 50-plus hours programming the app, and it is highly adaptable to an individual city’s needs. Ephraim explained, for example, that some local cities have programs set up for glass recycling, while others don’t. For each city they bring on board, the trio will be able to customize the app information and scheduling.

“The next step is to take this into reality. Once we get one city rolling, and can use it as a test, and work out the kinks, then we can present it to other cities,” Ephraim said.

PhoneCheck

Benjamin was a team and business idea unto himself, with a partner he met through Utah Valley University’s Entrepreneur Institute. They are behind another app, PhoneCheck, which aims to streamline the grocery shopping experience. When fully developed, PhoneCheck will allow customers to pay for each item as they shop, through their smartphone. This limits the line-up at the cash register, and customers can just present their e-receipt as they leave the store. He said the idea for it came when he was standing in line at Costco one day.

“I was standing there, waiting to buy one item and I was really annoyed,” he said.

Like the teens from Maeser, Benjamin already has a lot of people interested in his app. He hopes to partner with a grocery chain by the end of June, and launch his app within the next eight months. Though he didn’t take home any prizes Saturday, he felt the experience was just as valuable.

“This competition was more to see how good my pitch was, and to get the word out. Though it was disappointing I didn’t win, it won’t impact where I’m going,” Benjamin said.

The Maeser team had similar sentiments.

“This gives us more credibility with companies, and we’re hoping to gain momentum from it,” Ephraim said. “It will broadcast our idea to others.”

Saturday night’s winners were EcoGo from a high school team in Salt Lake City, and the Electro-Surgical Pouch from a team of two South Jordan high schools. EcoGo is an app that reduces the number of personal vehicles on Utah roads, and the Electro-Surgical Pouch is an innovative surgical instrument for use in a laparoscopic cholecystectomy to both dissect the gallbladder off the liver bed and remove the gallbladder from the abdomen. Both teams earned $5,000 in cash for their efforts.

“We’re very excited to bring this competition to Utah,” said Mark Rasmussen, student chair of the High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge. “We were very impressed with the incredible ideas presented by the teams. Many of these students will become our next entrepreneurs, inventors and business leaders.”

Excited by the response to this first High School Challenge, officials at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute plan make this event an annual one, according to Thad Kelling, head of marketing and public relations there.

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