A $5,000 grant, a $20,000 scholarship, and an opportunity to pursue an entrepreneurial idea… not a bad 18th birthday for Kayla Onstott.
The Kansas City, Kan., high school student was one of 10 finalists in the second annual JumpStart Kansas competition at McPherson College. Following the final pitch presentations on Feb. 13 (which just happened to also be her birthday), Onstott found out she was one of two grand prize winners, along with Brandon Mackie of Coffeyville.
“The most important thing was getting my passion across,” Onstott said. “I have a solution to a very real problem.”
The annual Jump Start Kansas competition — created and hosted by McPherson College — awards as the top prizes two grants of $5,000 to the two Kansas high school students who present the best entrepreneurial ideas. One grant is for the area of commercial entrepreneurship and one is for social entrepreneurship. What’s more, the grants come with no stipulation that the high school students attend McPherson College.
The grand prize winners are also offered a $5,000 annual scholarship to MC. The other eight finalists are offered a $1,000 annual scholarship to MC, which is increased to $1,500 annually if they also pursue the Transformative Entrepreneurship Minor when they attend the college. In addition, these students can receive $500 for their idea from the college’s micro-grant “Horizon Fund” if they attend.
In total, McPherson College puts more than $100,000 on the line every year just to encourage the development of young entrepreneurs.
Onstott won the grand prize in the commercial category. She started her five-minute presentation by explaining plainly how uncomfortable she was - and not just because she was pitching for $5,000 with a speech she’d been up to 2 a.m. writing. It was also because of the clothes she was wearing.
Namely, non-visible clothes.
In particular, her bra.
“How can I be comfortable presenting if I can’t even be comfortable in the clothes I’m wearing?” she said. “I don’t want to be jammed into a cookie-cutter bra.”
Onstott went on to explain that standard bras are made based on only two standard measurements — cup and band — and all mass-produced bras assume symmetry. But that’s only true for 10 percent of bra customers, she said, and the other 90 percent of these women are left either resorting to a poor, uncomfortable fit or spending hundreds of dollars on a custom bra.
Her solution was “Build a Better Bra Boutique.” The general concept is similar to the “Build-A-Bear Workshop” business, except instead of customizing a Teddy bear, Onstott’s customers would use a computerized system to order a bra to exact specifications. Trained employees would help measure and guide customers through the process.
Page 2 of 4 - “This is something that is close to my own heart and something I’ve been struggling with,” Onstott said.
The grant will help her learn more about the process of bra-making and help her begin setting up essential aspects of her business.
In the social entrepreneurship category, Brandon Mackie came away with the grand prize grant with his concept for an inspirational game called “Highway to Heaven.” The playing board is reminiscent of the game “Operation,” where players try to pull out plastic body parts from a cartoon picture of a surgery patient without touching the sides and making a buzzer go off.
But rather than competition, Mackie’s game is directed toward spiritual discovery within Christianity, healing sadness and depression, and teaching lessons of love. With a prototype, he showed how the players begin by trying to pull out a “broken heart” object at the beginning, then move along a pathway removing Christian symbols. The “highway” concludes with a “healed heart” and then a cross symbol. When players touch the edges and trigger the buzzer, they draw a card with inspirational quotes or Biblical scripture and the turn moves to the next player.
Mackie said he thinks the game can help bring people closer together and give tools to make it through hard times.
“I believe this game has the opportunity to reach out and create a better world for ourselves and the world around us,” he said.
The grant will help him to patent the game and to begin looking into manufacturing options.
“Maybe one day I can walk into a store and see it on the shelf,” Mackie said. “It’s my dream to do so.”
Both Onstott and Mackie are taking steps to attend McPherson College after they graduate because of the entrepreneurial education offered, financial assistance for their ideas, and guidance in their ventures.
“I really feel like McPherson has the resources and materials I need to be successful,” Onstott said.
Before President Michael Schneider announced the top prizes, he praised all of the contest finalists for taking a difficult step. In JumpStart Kansas, they took a risk by presenting a venture they believe in. Earlier, Schneider cited ventures in his own life that failed, but only because he gave up on them. He called on the students to be persistent and attend MC to help them continue with their ideas.
“The passion shows in every single one of you,” he said. “Anybody who will put the work in and persist will do amazing things.”
Page 3 of 4 - The finalists in JumpStart Kansas in 2013 were:
• Crystal Osner, Conway Springs — Crystal’s Crafts. Crystal proposed a business that would help people finish crafts that they started but didn’t have the time or knowledge to complete them.
“I’ve learned that a lot of people need help finishing crafts,” she said.
The business would also offer classes in handmade crafting techniques — especially sewing — and offer a venue for local crafters to sell their work on consignment. Her own work would also be on sale.
• Russell Krug, Hays — Bernoulli Wind Turbine. Krug was concerned about finding clean energy sources.
“I choose to use what is available and abundant in Kansas,” he said. “The wind.”
He proposed a radically different design for a wind turbine to create electricity. Rather than the wind directly turning a turbine blade, it uses a scientific property of fluids and gases called “The Bernoulli Principle.” This design uses the wind’s energy to pull air from the ground up, turning a turbine along the way. His design is safer for wildlife, has fewer moving parts, has no maximum operable wind speed and would be easier to maintain with a generator at ground level.
• Jordyn Lipe, Hutchinson, — The Joyful Bakery. Lipe has been baking since she could walk, and in more recent days has won prizes and developed loyal customers. Baking is her passion. Already selling her goods by word-of-mouth and a small Web presence, she would like to expand the business.
“My dream is to secure a location for my bakery and really get it going,” she said.
As she looks for that location, she wants to create a welcoming, calm and comforting atmosphere.
“My purpose in being before you today is to do my best to change the world,” she said.
She just might have secured some new fans at the competition, as she offered a taste of her cupcakes to the judging panel.
• Eric Unruh, Galva — Hydrogen Fuel Technology. Unruh would like to work out of his father’s mechanic shop to convert gasoline-powered cars to also run on liquid hydrogen, providing a clean alternative to fossil fuels.
“About any vehicle that runs on gas can be made to run on hydrogen,” he said.
Along with the conversion, he would also sell small generators to fit in a garage to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen, providing the fuel for the cars.
Page 4 of 4 - • Chelsea Walker, Udall — Paw Haven. Walker proposed a no-kill rescue shelter that would help animals from a variety of abusive situations - everything from abandoned pets to test animals to exotic former circus animals.
“The whole point of it is to end animal abuse,” she said.
Walker would need more than a dozen employees or volunteers and would sustain the venture through fundraisers, donations, merchandise and adoption fees.
• Kirsten Bieber, Olathe — Helping Hand. Bieber already has helped to save lives with a simple Twitter feed that gained more than 1,700 followers in a few months. Her purpose was to help encourage those contemplating suicide or dealing with other difficult situations.
“If you have ever been told that you had helped save a life, you’d know that feeling I get and hope to get for the rest of my life,” she said.
She hopes to expand Helping Hand by creating a venue for people to gather and support each other.
• Gemmy Haberman, Wichita — Easy Pick Up. Haberman proposed a business with the potential to help people from many walks of life — from busy corporate executives to homebound retirees. His concept was to create a delivery service focused on food, other groceries, and prescriptions. While there would be a delivery fee, his plan calls for keeping prices low to keep it in a price range for those who need it most.
• Becca Basore, Burdick — ProLearn. Basore believes in the power of project-based learning as opposed to “book learning.” To help teachers get away from curriculum frameworks as old as the Industrial Revolution, she is working to develop curriculum with manuals and supporting materials for project-based learning. It helps to engage students of her generation.
“I often hear, ‘Why are we doing this? When am I ever going to need this?’” she said.
She compared the concept to learning to drive a car.
“Today I’m a pretty good driver,” she said. “But I didn’t learn it from the book, but from actually driving the car.”