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All five teams gather on stage to hear the results.

Most fashion trends start on the coasts and slowly drift inland. But you heard it here first: Swaglets, developed right here in Louisville, are going to be huge.

Team ShoeLife from Jeffersontown High School debuted the fashion accessory at Monday night’s Junior Achievement Company Program Pitch Competition and Showcase, a “Shark Tank”-style event. The three-person team took home first place and $300.

The pitch competition pitted five area high school teams — finalists from a field of 19 — against each other in front of five “celebrity” judges and an audience of several hundred at the Kentucky Center for the Arts.

Swaglets is a portmanteau of “swag” and “aglets.” Aglets, as several of the judges (or “sharks”) didn’t know, are the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces. Team ShoeLife developed brightly colored plastic tubes that slip over your existing aglets. You can cut them to any length, and once you apply heat via a hairdryer or a lighter, they will stick on, even during heavy activity.

The team geared its marketing toward the youth market and specifically toward “sneakerheads,” people who collect rare, limited-edition or high-end sneakers. But the judges suggested they broaden their market. Swaglets could be used on hoodie strings or sweatpants drawstrings. Shark Vik Chadha, VP at Nucleus, suggested glow-in-the-dark Swaglets.

The sharks praised the team for their passion and charisma. Shark Donald Wenzel, VP at JP Morgan Chase & Co., said their written business plan was the best among the five companies. The presentation was well-rehearsed, and the students interacted naturally and comfortably during the Q&A session with the sharks.

Shark Sharon Kerrick, associate director of entrepreneurship at the University of Louisville, said the team had “so much energy and life.”

Louisville Collegiate’s team Zip Clips came in second place, taking home $200. Zip Clips are customizable zipper pulls that are fashionable, collectable and functional.

Several of the team members realized the zippers on their school backpacks are too small and don’t provide the best leverage to zip with ease. Adding a Zip Clip solves this problem, as they said, “enhancing the zipping experience.”

Currently the team is making the product in Collegiate’s makerspace with a 3-D printer and stickers, but they hope to move to outsourcing in the near future.

Third place went to Team Byte the Buzz, also from Jeffersontown High School. They created Tech Neck, a product you slip onto both ends of your phone-charging cord where the cord meets the plugs to keep the cord from breaking due to stress.

The product costs $5, and they already have 100 pre-orders. Unfortunately they’ve been unable to fill the orders because the school — which is an engineering school — doesn’t have a CAD printer that can print as intricately as they need it to.

They won $200.

Team Eagle Tech from the Academy at Shawnee High School has been buying low-cost portable phone battery chargers on eBay and reselling them in high schools and other places where you may find yourself out of battery “juice.” They’ve sold 20 so far and just got another shipment of 20 more. The team purchases them for under $3 and sells them for $10.

Atherton’s Team Koala-ity was the lone nonprofit in the contest, and their presentation was pure comedy gold. It turns out koalas are dying of tooth decay. Because eucalyptus is so tough and toxic, it wears down the enamel on the animals’ teeth, eventually rendering their teeth useless. Also, female koalas choose mates with the biggest teeth. Koala-ity wants to develop research on how to solve this problem, possibly with a food additive like fluoride or calcium, because, as they said, “koalas are dope.”

The sharks made a lot of jokes about koala dentures and retainers but also brought up the serious observation that this may be Darwinism at work.

Team Koala-ity. Because Koalas ARE dope.
Team Koala-ity — Because koalas ARE dope.

This was the debut year for this revamp of the long-running JA Company Program. The old program had students create mock companies using old-school business models. The new JA Company embraces the Lean Startup method and has high-school kids create real and functional startups in just 13 weeks.

This new version of the program was largely the brainchild of Interapt CEO Ankur Gopal, working with both JA and EnterpriseCorps. Gopal, who won a JA Company competition in 1992, served as emcee for the event.

“JA changed my life,” he said. “One night like this can change your life.”

The other sharks on the panel were Dion Dunn, director of Centric Consulting, and J.K. McKnight, founder of the Forecastle Festival.

McKnight also delivered the keynote speech aimed at the students in the audience. He reminded them that Forecastle’s first event drew only 75 people and now draws upwards of 60,000 annually.

He said that while he didn’t know it in high school, three values he learned at St. Xavier High School ended up being critical to his success:

  • Excellence: Set a high bar, higher than your competitors.
  • Discipline: Everyone on your team needs to be on the same page.
  • Integrity: No cutting corners.

McKnight said that while he has many speaking engagements all around the country, he appreciates talking to students the most.

At the end of the event, Gopal confirmed that the revamp of the JA Company Program had been so successful, they plan on rolling it out statewide in 2016.

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