Camp fosters budding inventors and entrepreneurs in Dalton Public Schools

Matt Hamilton/Daily Citizen-News

Eros Tardy, 9, draws a schematic for a new style of toothbrush on Tuesday at Dalton Middle School during the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Camp.

DALTON, Ga. — Andrea Hernandez, a rising fifth-grader at City Park School, and about 50 other Dalton Public Schools students were doing a little market research on Tuesday, interviewing local consumers about how the students could improve products the consumers use.

Hernandez and her group were trying to come up with a better backpack.

"We've been asking people 'What do you use your backpack to carry?' 'What sort of backpack do you like?' What would be the perfect future backpack?'" she said.

The students were gathered at Dalton Middle School for an Entrepreneurship and Innovation Camp, which continues on Wednesday.

“We asked school leaders to pick some kids who think outside the box or who have created inventions or taken part in different competitions to come to this camp to learn design thinking," said Nick Sun, director of school support for Dalton Public Schools.

"We were hoping to get 30 or 40, so we've had a really great turnout for what I hope will be our first camp," Sun said.

The students ranged from third to eighth grade and represented every school in the Dalton Public Schools system except Dalton High School. They were given a choice of three products — backpacks, toothbrushes or fidget toys — and challenged to find ways to improve them.

"They are going through the design-thinking process," said Julia Cagle, media specialist at Westwood School. "They are given a challenge. They gain inspiration and empathy by talking to consumers. They go through a brainstorming process and develop a prototype. Then they will pitch their ideas."

Cagle said the three products were chosen because the organizers wanted something the students would be familiar with.

"We have mixed them up for the first day and a half of the camp," she said. "We have kids from different schools and different grades working together."

The students were mentored during their brainstorming sessions by students from Dalton State College's Wright School of Business.

Stephani Womack, education partner director for Believe Greater Dalton, a joint public-private partnership aimed at implementing a five-year strategic plan for the city and Whitfield County, was one of the community members who volunteered to be interviewed by the students regarding their use of the products they are working on.

"The students I have been talking to asked me about my toothbrush," she said. "They wanted to know what I would change about it, what would make it easier to use, what would make it more fun to brush my teeth."

Mikenley King, a rising fifth-grader at Westwood School, was working with a group to develop a better toothbrush.

"We're asking people a lot of questions about toothbrushes and whether they prefer a manual or an electric toothbrush," she said.

Sydney Brown, a rising fifth-grader at Westwood School, said her group had already come up with ideas to improve toothbrushes including bristles that last longer and a compartment to store toothpaste.

Today, the students are scheduled to "showcase their ideas and their prototypes to members of the community."

Then, later in the day, Dalton Middle School student Tripp Phillips and his father Lee will talk to the students about how they developed Le-Glue, a non-permanent glue that holds Legos and other building blocks together without damaging them.

Tripp Phillips and his family went on the TV show "Shark Tank" last year and reached a deal with investor Kevin O'Leary to buy into their company. Phillips won the inaugural PitchDIA (Dalton Innovation Accelerator) contest a few months earlier. In both competitions, entrepreneurs have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to business leaders who choose the winner.

And the students taking part in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Camp will have an opportunity to participate in a system-wide competition for entrepreneurs and inventors on Friday, Sept. 13, at Dalton High School starting at 9 a.m. The contest is open to all students in Dalton Public Schools.

Local business leaders will pick four finalists who will take part in this year's PitchDIA contest, which will be on Tuesday, Oct. 8, where the audience will select a winner.

Sun says all students who take part in the Sept. 13 competition will have the opportunity to go on to compete in similar contests in Chattanooga and Atlanta.

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