Humboldt County Office of Education: Seventh Annual INNOVATE! Business Challenge Awards Youth Start-ups

Seventh Annual INNOVATE! Business Challenge Awards Youth Start-ups

Seventh Annual INNOVATE! Business Challenge Awards Youth Start-ups

Five Humboldt County High School students competed in the INNOVATE! Business Challenge Finale with $8,500 in prize money and $1,000 in media services awarded to support the development of their businesses.  The INNOVATE! Finale took place on Thursday, May 30, at the Humboldt County Office of Education’s Sequoia Conference Center in Eureka, where over 100 people attended to hear about the students’ concepts and encourage their efforts.

The INNOVATE! Business Challenge is a high school competition designed to promote entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation. In Phase One, Humboldt County students were challenged to create and submit business start-up ideas as 60-90 second video elevator pitches. Judges reviewed and scored all the videos to select 50 top ideas to move into Phase Two. This year, over 120 videos were submitted in Phase One.

The 50 Semifinalists were then challenged to develop viable business models, identify their target customers, and calculate how to make their ideas profitable by answering 13 key business plan questions. During Phase Two, judges had the difficult job of selecting only five final concepts to present in a “Shark Tank” style event as they competed for cash awards. Due to the strength of this year’s concepts, judges in a Design Review process interviewed six additional concepts, and awarded $1,800 in additional cash prizes.

An important aspect of the competition is preparing the students for the real world of business. This year, local experts volunteered at three workshops designed to refine their ideas into a viable venture. Coaches provided advice on product development, branding, their value proposition, preparing an income statement, determining start-up costs and capital needs, as well as short and long-term planning. The advice introduced business practices that the students could adapt to their business models.

It was an impressive evening of high-caliber presentations. The evening began with a Meet and Greet Mixer for the Finalists to learn how to promote and network their ideas with the guests.

Each Finalist had a 15-minute window to pitch his/her idea and answer questions from a panel of five judges. The judges had the difficult task of deciding which Finalists had the most dynamic concept and how best to support their start-up needs.

In the end, Chloe Latt, a sophomore at Academy of the Redwoods, took the top honor, winning $2,500 in cash for her business Wattle Renewal.

Elijah Matthies, a junior at Zoe Barnum High was the first runner up, winning $2,250 in cash and a $500 media package from Bicoastal media for his business, 5am Truly. Abigail Ziesak, a junior at Eureka High, won $1,500 and $250 in media certificates from Bicoastal Media and Eureka Broadcasting for Miss Abigail’s Jams, Jellies & More. Jeremicah Curiel, a senior at Eureka High took home $1250 for his business, PIICKUP. Evelyn Gillespie, a junior at Eureka High received $1,000 for Robes of Venus.

Judges included Victoria Bennington, Market Manager, Bicoastal Media; Ben Larson, Business Relationship Manager, US Bank; Mary Keene, Founder, Cypress Grove Chevre; Steve O’Meara, Owner, Kokatat; and Tom Tellez, Owner, Wallace & Hinz.

Karen Brooks, Project Lead for Innovate stated, “Each year we never know what ideas will be submitted and it is always gratifying to have a wonderful network of business owners and experts volunteer their time to help the students transform their idea into a business venture. Entrepreneurial education is foreign to most students; so many different types of learners are able to participate. All they need is creativity, passion and perseverance.”

The evening included a keynote address by Henry Wotherspoon, 2015 and 2016 Innovate finalist and winner.  Henry is the founder of FlyBy Academy, an online community of drone enthusiasts who learn, network, buy, fly and race drones.  Henry talked about his new venture, electric skateboards, and shared about the impact the competition had on his life after winning.

Sponsors have continued to generously support this high school program. The Headwaters Fund, US Bank, Bicoastal Media, Eureka Broadcasting, Sun Valley, and the Humboldt County Office of Education provided programmatic support or helped fund the Finale.

“Our student INNOVATE participants are proof of the intense capability of all students and that we must push the boundaries and create student-learning experiences that provide this level of relevancy and engagement for all students in Humboldt County,” stated Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Chris Hartley. “Our community partners understand that our students deserve a platform to take risks, think creatively, be empowered, and have an equitable opportunity to develop to their full potential.”

The Design Review judges counseled six additional concepts that they felt were compelling but in need of further development. Those five concepts were recognized and awarded at the finale and included Pau Font Melendez from Six Rivers Charter High for TIBAK – $300; Asia Brunell from McKinleyville High for Every Eye Reader – $300; Dallas Daynard, Kelson Sutter, and Stephanie Wilson from McKinleyville High for Road House – $400; Cory Soll from Arcata High for Soll Speargun – $400; Holly James from Six Rivers Charter High for Handmade & Heartfelt – $200; and Stephanie Wilson from McKinleyville High for Demetrius – $200.

The Innovate Business Challenge is an entrepreneurial model that infuses creativity, design and innovation.  The competition is part of the Decade of Difference, and designed to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs. For more information, please contact Karen Brooks at (707) 445-7563 or, or visit the website at