I took the stage, standing in silence for a second as my eyes adjusted to the stage lights. And then I began. I spoke as I had done a hundred times the night before, emphasizing meaning with efficiency, deftly using rehearsed expressions, gestures, and vocal cues. Halfway through, I choked. A curtain fell over my mind, blanketing my thoughts and obstructing my flow. I repeated the same sentence twice. I stumbled over my words. A cold sweat began working down my arms, and the audience was deafeningly quiet. Just as it became unbearable, the autopilot took back over. I gave my closing remarks, the audience applauded, and I walked off stage, blood coursing through my veins. That was only a minute.
Sponsored by IMSA’s TALENT, Power Pitch is an annually held competition for students to pitch their business ideas to real-world investors and business experts in the area. And these are not your typical ideas. On display this year was anything from self-guided, object-aware wheelchairs — with a real-life, functional prototype, no less! — to a software platform for drastically shortening software development cycles, which has already obtained venture capital. And did I mention these are high-school students? Twenty-four teams, or over fifty individuals from six different schools, pitched their ideas this year, and to put it mildly, it was intense.
Even after the one-minute pitches, the intensity remained, although the sheer shock had subsided. Judges went around to the teams during the exhibition round to grill them for the depths and potentials of their ideas, and potentially even recruit them, as it was for us. To overstate, misconvey an idea, or make one mistake, could potentially cost votes from judges or spectators, or even placement as a finalist. In the end, though six teams were supposed to make it, seven ended up qualifying when a sixth-place tie could be broken neither by judge votes nor audience votes.
The IMSA student body has not generally been known for innovation: We often speak of our decade-or-more old notable alumni as if they were the patron saints of our academy, like Steve Chen, founder of YouTube, or Sam Yagan, co-founder of SparkNotes and OkCupid. Such alumni have seemingly risen to a level out of reach of all but a handful of students per decade, so we start making up excuses: Perhaps they’re geniuses. Maybe IMSA was a lot better a decade ago. Or, it could just be that they made all the right moves in all the right places.
But from what I saw that night at Power Pitch, any notion of “destined mediocrity” or lack of ingenuity is blatantly wrong. Success is not a once-a-decade lottery: in one year alone, our own student body has yielded a number of passion-driven ideas for world-changing innovations that have even captured the interests of successful venture capitalists. The rising popularity of programs at IMSA such as TALENT is evidence that a catalyst encouraging thinking outside the box is all that’s necessary to drive innovation. Entrepreneurship at IMSA has been stronger than ever, and now is the time to get started.
Postscript: This year, the final round of Power Pitch will take place on April 29th, at 1871. Spectators are welcome; hope to see you there! For more information on the TALENT program, visit: https://www.imsa.edu/academics/talent