NWI students shine at Innovate WithIN state finals • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine
Innovate WithIN state finalists

NWI students shine at Innovate WithIN state finals

Earlier this summer, the STARTedUP Foundation hosted the state finals for Innovate WithIN, the most elite high school pitch competition in the country that allows Indiana’s high schoolers from every region of the state a chance to share their entrepreneurial ideas. Two Northwest Indiana teams were among 10 state finalists, and they shined!

Benjamin Eberle, a junior at Hobart High School, won second place and will receive $5,000 in seed funding. Tow Scout designed a portable rearview mirror that can be easily attached to boats, kayaks or other watercraft, providing a clear view of the surrounding area to ensure safe navigation.

“The problem that I solved with my product is that for most of the mounts on the market, you actually have to drill holes on the boat,” Eberle said. “I wanted to create a mount that would get rid of the drilling process, and ultimately be safer.”

Munster High School seniors Joshua Avila, Austin Beetson and Sayeed Mohammed won third place and will receive $2,500 for their business. Novos developed a kit that transports users to a unique culture or location. Kits contain blends of essential oils inspired by different cultures around the world.

“Novos’ niche is to provide culture through the scents that we produce,” Beetson said.

“I came here from India when I was 4 years old. It is hard for me to connect back to my culture, but this is nostalgic for me, connecting me back to my homeland,” Mohammed added.

“We’re helping other people express a love for their culture,” concluded Avila.

Novos’ teacher also was recognized at this year’s state finals. Munster High School entrepreneurship teacher Krissy LaFlech was named the winner of Innovate WithIN's 2023 Teacher of the Year Award.

The Society of Innovators at Purdue Northwest serves as the Region 4 Northwest Indiana host for Innovate WithIN. Our mission is to drive economic and community change through innovation and entrepreneurship. PNW is a premier metropolitan university dedicated to empowering transformational change in our students and our communities.

It is a no-brainer for us to partner with organizations like the STARTedUP Foundation. Northwest Indiana left its marks throughout the 2023 Innovate WithIN program. This partnership is simply an opportunity to pour more fuel on the fires that are already burning in our Region and spreading that fire across the rest of the state.

It is also crucial that we support the transformational change students gain when participating in Innovate WithIN. As a regional host, I get the opportunity to talk to many of the students competing, not just the finalists. Every year, I hear things like: “I learned how to be a communicator,” or “we learned how to work as a team.” These are new skills that are going to pay dividends for years to come.

Another recurring theme is that every year I hear about students who had no interest in business. They might have been planning to study another subject in college, but because of Innovate WithIN, they decided to change their major or add an entrepreneurship program into their academic plans.

I’ve also had teachers tell me that college wasn’t even in the path of some of their students. They are now interested in continuing their education because of the experiences, resources and connections Innovate WithIN provided.

Purdue Northwest offers scholarship incentives to students who win the regional or state competitions and go on to enroll at PNW. For 2023, we are excited to announce that Sayeed Mohammed won a full year of tuition for the 2023-2024 academic year. Mohammed graduated from Munster High School in May and will be start at PNW this fall.

“Throughout this process, I just saw their growth,” said Munster teacher LaFlech when referring to Mohammed’s Novos team. “People had cut them off. They had said they’ll get a high school diploma and they’ll be lucky if they get that. To see them out in the community being a leader, talking about their culture and being comfortable with that. That’s huge! That is why I do what I do every day.”

It is not an understatement to say that Innovate WithIN is changing the lives and future trajectories of these students. We have no idea among thousands of participants what long-term impact this is going to have, but it is an incredible opportunity for us all to continue pouring our support into these young innovators.

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