CLIFTON PARK — Budding entrepreneurs at Shenendehowa’s Gowana Middle School showed off their inventions last week to compete in the district’s second "Shen Tank" contest.
For the event, loosely based on the popular television show "Shark Tank," the students were tasked with designing a product that would benefit the school community in some way. On Wednesday, the students gathered in the middle school auditorium to present their ideas to a panel of judges.
Some students designed their products individually, while others worked in pairs. The competition is hosted by the Shen Tank club, which is in its second year and is advised by Shenendehowa English teacher John Conover.
The club focuses on providing students with problem-solving exercises.
But this year, the students weren’t only tasked with inventing things. In order to raise money for gift-card prizes for the competition, the students partnered with local businesses for three weeks to conduct a coffee and hot chocolate fundraiser.
Teachers placed beverage orders in the morning with students, who then delivered the orders.The club raised more than $300 to buy three gift cards from Best Buy. Conover said he received numerous calls from colleagues at Shen requesting the club continue the fundraiser for the rest of the year.
Some of the inventions were brainstormed in direct response to wintry, late-spring weather.
Sixth-grade student Arnav Chhabra, who came in first place, presented a self-driving snowblower, called the “Smoomba.”
“The Smoomba is simple. It’s a robot snowblower. It snowblows your driveway in about 30 minutes,” he explained.
He noted that, in a time when snowblowers are large and often expensive, his product would be cheap and much more compact. Chhabra said he would sell his invention for $200. Having a self-driving snowblower, he added, would prevent the pain and stress caused by shoveling heavy snow.
Victoria Ines, an eighth-grader at Acadia Middle School, secured second place in the competition with her Climacase invention, a laptop carrying case designed to either keep a laptop from overheating while left in a car during the summer months, or to keep it from freezing during the winter months.
Sanay Tralshawala, who is also in eighth grade and competed in last year’s competition, secured third place for his “Teachers 101” invention.
Teachers 101 is an internet application that teachers can download to join online communities with other local teachers to share ideas and create lesson plans.
“If you were a math teacher, and you couldn’t think of a lesson to teach for a certain topic, you could turn to this website, where you can choose from a variety of different teachers who have posted and you can use your favorite lesson,” he said.
Though the students weren’t required to actually create the products they pitched, some contestants went the extra mile.
Conover pointed out that, while some students did have prototypes for their inventions, the main focus of the competition was the idea of the invention itself, and the solutions that students found, or the questions they answered, including where there would be a market for their inventions.
“The important thing here is that we’re looking at creativity and innovation,” Conover said. “All of these students have those things, and they’ve been working very hard.”