Young innovators competition encourages professional growth

Ten students from kindergarten to eighth grade will take the stage in the USF School of Music Concert Hall to present inventions, like shirts that can guide blind people and expandable shoes, to a panel of judges in the eighth annual USF Young Innovator Competition at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

The competition is part of Innovation Express Corporation, a non-profit that works with USF among others. It is in partnership with USF, the Museum of Science and Industry and Home Shopping Network (HSN).

According to the competition’s website, the mission is to inspire creativity and motivate youth to be problem solvers.

“In doing so, children discover why education gives them increasingly more powerful tools and resources to solve bigger problems and challenges,” the website said.

Anton Hopen, USF Young Innovator Competition founder and competition director, said in a press release that the competition is a unique blend of science and engineering with business.

“These children not only have come up with creative inventions, but they have learned to convey the value of these ideas like an HSN television host selling a new product. They are ready for the spotlight,” Hopen said in the release.

In order to enter the competition, children must have a piece of original work completed no more than a year before Thursday and must be from Pasco, Pinellas, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Citrus, Sarasota or Polk County.

The 10 finalists have been training with an HSN talent team to prepare their big presentations. Judges of the competition will include Bill Green, an HSN television host, and Paul Sanberg, USF senior vice president for research, innovation and economic development.

Judging the competition is done in three stages. First, industry experts and patent attorneys judge hundreds of submissions on marketability, functionality, feasibility and potential value. This year, there were 700 applicants from all over Tampa Bay.

A local chapter of the National Academy of Inventors then selects finalists. Those finalists go on to give presentations to a panel of judges who select the winners. First prize is $1,000, second is $500 and third is $250.

Each winner’s school will be given a matching cash prize “to support innovation programs.”

Some participants have moved forward with their inventions after the competition. Marissa Streng, a winner in 2011, presented her invention, a dog dryer called the “Puff-n-Fluff” on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show.

The winners are announced on Thursday in honor of Thomas Edison’s birthday.

There is also an award for best branding given out by Bloomin’ Brands, the company that owns restaurants including Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba’s Italian Grill.