Young STEM learners were given the opportunity to flex their innovation muscles at Trinity Walton Club’s Ultimate Pitch Event.
Any time you are invited to the Science Gallery to engage with young students, you are highly likely to leave feeling bowled over by brilliance, and perhaps a bit inadequate as an adult trying to keep up with the minds of impressive, innovative teens.
The Trinity Walton Club Ultimate Pitch Event was no exception to this experience, but that’s not to say it wasn’t exceptional. The ultimate winner on the day – Tortue – was just one of six polished pitches that made decision-making difficult for me and my fellow judges.
I was invited to judge the event alongside David Tighe, head of innovation of Bank of Ireland; and Dr Vivienne Patterson, head of skills, engagement and statistics at the Higher Education Authority (HEA).
“We saw some brilliant concepts today and for many, it was their first time bringing an idea to life, which in itself is an achievement,” said Tighe.
STEM and ICE
The pitch event was the culmination of a new strand to Trinity Walton Club’s programme of self-directed learning in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) for secondary school students.
Director of the club, Dr Arlene Gallagher, explained how they decided to branch into business-focused skills with the addition of a new acronym, ICE: innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. Summer workshops in STEM and ICE were facilitated by Gallagher and members of the team at Bank of Ireland, a proud supporter of Trinity Walton Club and sponsor of the event.
With the help of the Trinity Walton Club educators, along with Bank of Ireland entrepreneur in residence Gene Murphy and project architect Sarah Tully, 30 teenagers learned how to devise a business model around a STEM idea and to present that idea in a succinct three minutes. The students applied the lean canvas business development model and brought their innovations to the pitching stage after just one weekend of intense preparation.
Winning team Tortue was represented on stage by Shraya Sharma and Katarzyna Basinska, both 14-year-old students about to enter their Junior Certificate year at school in Dublin. This dynamic duo were as accomplished as any start-up pitching to investors day in and day out, and their well fleshed-out idea won over the judging team.
Six of the best
Tortue presented a design, based on how a turtle carries its shell, for a backpack to minimise back pain – something the young students behind it would know all about. Their business model took inspiration from Swedish brand Fjallraven’s Kanken backpacks, which have been gaining rapid popularity across Europe. Not only did the Tortue team exhibit a firm grasp of marketing, design thinking and engineering for the concept itself, they also presented a strong case for taking on their competition with a more accessible price point.
A winner of the remarkable 3D-printed trophy had to be selected, but praise is due to the five other teams who all completed impressive presentations for the audience gathered at the Science Gallery on 2 September.
One project, Mental Health Now, was a social enterprise aiming to tackle one of the core issues in Irish society right now, while the Happy Head team wanted to help alleviate stress with a design for headphones augmented with sensors to track brain activity. Another team working with wearable technology devised a glove that could translate sign language into text and speech.
Like Tortue, Double Treble took their inspiration from team members’ personal experience, and had developed and prototyped a page-turning music stand to aid musicians. Finally, Vegnet presented a social platform for gamified recipe-sharing with added data analysis for personalised meal plans. (In one particularly bright moment of business savvy, the Vegnet team assured us they were confident of funding since investors are “going mad” to snap up data-based start-ups.)
The Trinity Walton Club exists through support from the HEA. The programme connects like-minded students – dubbed the ‘Alphas’ – and STEM role models. During weekend sessions, the students are challenged to engage in activities that complement the national maths and science curricula, and enrich their experiences with STEM.
“We’ve had over 1,000 young people attend Trinity Walton Club since we first started three years ago,” said Gallagher. “I’m delighted for the Tortue team and for all the other teams whose entrepreneurial spirits have been awoken as a result of this experience. It’s just the beginning for these highly creative Alphas, and they are all truly winners!”
Trinity Walton Club is currently recruiting new Alphas to join the club and any second-level students with a curiosity in STEM are advised to get in touch.