Imagine preparing to appear on Shark Tank: pitching your idea to accomplished business leaders and answering tough questions on the spot. Now imagine doing this at the age of 16 on a stage in front of hundreds of people. Last Friday, three high school teams had the unique opportunity to do just that: student finalists from across Las Vegas pitched their mock business ideas on Center Stage at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The finalists were prepared; they’d already practiced being a business owner– from ideation to turning a profit– as part of a powerful digital education program.

The students all recently completed the Future Innovators Program, a digital entrepreneurship course provided to Las Vegas area schools in partnership with the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). The program uses interactive business simulations and personal development activities to teach students how to think entrepreneurially in business and in life. The course was developed with the idea that students in the new economy will need a very different set of skills than what has been taught in the past. Innovative thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and other entrepreneurial traits will be essential for them to succeed in any opportunity they pursue.

Scott Weiler, an aerospace engineering teacher at Rancho High School, has been teaching for 13 years. His students were among the three final teams selected to present their idea on the CES Center Stage. “One thing I’ve noticed over time is that we used to deliver content by cramming it into a child’s brain,” said Weiler. “What is different now is that we give them aspects of the content and have them problem solve and figure things out on their own, so they have a better understanding of everyday applications.” For Weiler, this program helps his students understand how to bring ideas to fruition. “With [CTA’s] digital entrepreneurship program, it’s not just a concept. They now have the ability to get the idea to practicality. So before it was getting from point A to point B, and now it’s getting to point C.”

 

The Future Innovators Program allows students to work independently and at their own pace. For Aiden, a junior in the aerospace engineering program at Rancho High School, it also helped him think about business ideas would improve his everyday life. “When I came up with my idea I was actually joking around – what if there was a gaming chair that was water cooled and helped me sit more comfortably?” said Aiden. “And then Mr. Weiler turns around, tells me it’s an excellent idea and hands me a piece of paper.” That paper was the invitation to the preliminary business pitch competition. Aiden, and his friend and ‘business partner’ Nick, aced the preliminary competition and subsequently earned a spot on the CES Center Stage.

One of the most important lessons Aiden and Nick learned from the program is the power of ideas to solve problems. “Every idea counts and is a concept that can be applied,” said Nick. “If you’re shooting down ideas in your head before you even consider them, you’re doing yourself and others a great disservice.”

Weiler was in the audience at CES to watch his students compete on the Center Stage. He was beaming with pride as he watched them pitch their actively cooling gaming chair. Most importantly, he is hopeful about how this program will translate to their future. “I hope they get out of this the understanding that they can do. There’s something amazing about the time when you start being able to do for yourself vs. having people do for you. From this point on, I don’t see them in a world of ‘I can’t’, but of ‘Watch me do it.’”

Learn more about the Future Innovators Program and the student business competition HERE.

CES is open to consumer technology professionals who are at least 18 years of age.