Idea Lab Sparks Business Plans

ECHS seniors competed for business grant
By: Todd Martin

An Early College High School student team won a state-level entrepreneurship contest and $500 in start-up cash for what might just be the “Necks Best Thing.”
A national NAACP youth program called the Idea Lab chose Killeen’s chapter to host a youth contest styled after the popular television show “Shark Tank.”
A panel of Central Texas education and business leaders watched five presentations from Early College High School seniors Saturday and chose a creative idea to design and market customized lanyards – the “Necks Best Thing.”
All five ideas showed students’ interests in providing products to improve the community.
The lanyard idea grabbed judges’ attention with its relatively inexpensive start-up costs and easy delivery and storage.
Plus, the ambitious group of five students, all dressed in black, began their presentation by giving each judge a sample of their snazzy, comfortable product.
The presentation included a video, with student Connor Cole describing the pains of having to wear a lanyard with required ID to school every day.
The group’s leader, chief executive officer Brandon Brown-Marks explained the company’s guiding principles, to get beyond profits and donate 20 percent of revenue back to the community, specifically helping organizations that serve military-connected children and youth.
Winning group members included Celestina Garrido, Edwin Williams, Taylor Ferguson, Cole and Brown-Marks. Their $500 grant will help the fledgling business secure a license and patent their product.
“It’s one of the greatest things I’ve been able to accomplish,” Brown-Marks said following the announcement of the winner. “Being able to lead this team and start a business, going into the summer this was not part of the plan.”
Near the end of last school year, ECHS AVID teacher Latisha McGee offered up to students the chance to come up with a business idea to present to the community judges.
In the beginning, Brown-Marks said, his group understood the challenge was to come up with a community service idea. They wanted to start a non-profit organization to help connect homeless residents with social services.
When they realized the challenge was entrepreneurial they began to think in terms of something simple they could sell to make money to help the community.
The student leader said he likes lanyards and knows that school-required IDs lead many of his peers to dress code violations. Some students, he said, choose to take a violation rather than wear the ID, with its unfashionable lanyard.
The Necks Best Thing, designed as “the next best thing for the next best teen,” allows students to design their own lanyard with a softer, cooling fabric.
With online design and ordering, the lanyards would be available in bulk for businesses and other organizations, the students explained.
The business idea that drew the second-most points, called Mend Again, takes donated clothes and revamps the items for reuse.
That group brought along a rack of donated clothes and restyled clothes as well as several peer models showing off original styles.
Other business ideas included Homeroom Connect, a web application to help students be more organized and also providing social venues and premium options for teachers and businesses; Basic Living Classes to provide instruction for teens about cooking, cleaning, budgeting, auto mechanics and other skills; and The Spot, a safe, fun entertainment venue that would also provide homework help.
“Our youth have this opportunity to be inspired,” said TaNeika Driver-Moultrie of Killeen’s NAACP chapter and a coordinator of the event. “They are competing for a start-up grant so this truly inspires kids to execute their plan.”
The 25 volunteer students, all heading into their senior year at KISD’s Early College High School, first met last June to work on coming up with projects. They continued to meet, often virtually, to hammer out details.
The day of the event, the groups met in classrooms at the KISD Career Center much of the morning before presenting to the panel of judges and hearing the result.