A crime-fighting alert bracelet that looks like a smartwatch. A simple way to sanitize toilet brushes. A solution for those stinky kitchen sink sponges. A fail-safe system for tidying messy drawers.

These were among the winning ideas submitted by 20 Missouri youths who participated in this spring’s Young Entrepreneur Pitch Challenge — a collaboration of the Missouri AfterSchool Network, Missouri 4-H and the Young Entrepreneur Institute in northeastern Ohio.

Contestants ages 5-17 were challenged to propose an idea for a business that would solve a problem they had identified — and pitch it in a short video. A panel of University of Missouri campus and extension faculty, graduate students and community entrepreneurs judged the pitches on overall quality, creativity and persuasiveness. Seven winners were announced at a May 18 celebration ceremony via Zoom.

At ages 8 and 12, Anna and L J Temple are already serial entrepreneurs — their basement in West Plains, Missouri, has been an incubator for many inventions. L J keeps a journal of all his ideas, including “extensive sketches” for the Brush and Plunge, his winning pitch. The BAP merges a plunger and toilet brush into a single device along with a container and cleanser. His prototype BAP is a modest version of a complex device he envisions, similar to a refrigerator filter, that would automatically remove impurities.

“We did our best with what we had,” the Howell County rising seventh-grader said. The inspiration? “One of my chores is to clean the toilets, and the brushes just gross me out.”

Like her brother and fellow Shark Tank devotee, Anna was inspired by a weekly chore and recognition of a skill she could put to good use for others. Missouri’s Marie Kondo Mini-Me, Anna values a well-organized drawer and has perfected her technique arranging the family snack drawer after weekly grocery store runs.

“People just dump stuff in their drawers, it overflows everywhere, they can’t ever find what they need, and then they don’t have anywhere to put new things they get,” Anna said. “It becomes a very large problem”—a problem she would like to help her neighbors solve. “I can see this turning into a very successful business.”

From the time he started playing his first video game around age 7, Devin Elkins always had ideas for how to improve the game, the equipment, the experience. Then he found himself analyzing shoes the same way — tinkering with ideas to improve design, support, comfort, performance. For the Pitch Challenge, Elkins, now a rising senior at Jennings Senior High School in St. Louis, chose to address a community challenge. Building on a project he and others developed in an internship program last summer, Elkins proposed an alert bracelet that sends out a distress signal to nearby law enforcement to help combat crime and violence in his community.

“The idea was to create something relatable that would help your community,” Elkins said. “This is something anybody could use in a dangerous situation. And this is very relatable in a community where people struggle with the effects of violence.”

After-school programs can provide space and opportunities for students to explore and discover their future hopes and dreams, said Mark Cowsert, Missouri AfterSchool Network associate director of policy and partnerships. “And developing an entrepreneurial mindset will give them the essential skills for their future success.”

Entrepreneurial skills also prepare students for the jobs of the future, most of which may not even exist yet, according to business analysts and economists, said Steve Henness, MU Extension state 4-H youth development specialist in civic engagement. “This is also contributing to workforce development and MU Extension’s impact on the state’s grand challenge of improved economic opportunities.”

Contestants also heard from Marshall Stewart, MU vice chancellor for extension and engagement.

“What a timely opportunity to be involved in this work as we seek new ways to approach problems,” Stewart said. “Entrepreneurs are risk-takers, leaders, innovators. I really believe as we come out of this [COVID-19] crisis, we’re going to see many new opportunities for entrepreneurs in the years ahead.”

Brandon Banks, a 25-year-old entrepreneur who owns a Missouri media company, also encouraged students to explore their interests and passions and not be afraid of failure that “will help you become resilient and withstand difficult times and changes.”

The Pitch Challenge is part of an Afterschool Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative grant from the Charles S. Mott Foundation that will also help the Missouri AfterSchool Network with other staff development, youth programming and partnership-building opportunities throughout the year, involving University of Missouri campuses and entrepreneurship programs, and faculty, advisers, student entrepreneurs and other partners across the state.

The pitch challenge is based on a model from the Young Entrepreneur Institute, one of two national training and technical support providers on the grant.


Grades 9-12 winner

  • Devin Elkins–Jennings High School 21st Century Community Learning Center Afterschool Program–Alert Bracelet

Grades 6-8 winners

  • L. J. Temple–Howell County–Brush and Plunge (BAP)
  • Benjamin Foulkes–Columbia Area Career Center–School Bus Tracker
  • Hannah Ayers–Pettis County–Crocheted Chickens

Grades 6-8 finalists

  • Zachary Ayers–Pettis County–Handmade Candles
  • Zoe Beal–Boone County–OE Knits Hand Dyed Yarn
  • Ellie Samek–Polk County–Popcorn
  • Zoe Engelbrecht–Lafayette County–Sew Into It!
  • Anna Ahrens–Cape Girardeau County–Yeast Feast World Bakery
  • Hannah Wright–Pettis County–Handmade Items

Grades K-5 winners

  • Anna Temple–Howell County–Drawergenizer
  • McKenna Mackey–Hickory County–Clean Country Critters
  • Chloe Beal–Boone County–Chloe Creates Dog Accessories

Grades K-5 finalists

  • Asher Ahrens–Cape Girardeau County–Centipede Sensations
  • Jolie Beal–Boone County–JoJo's Snack Bags
  • Kasen Ahrens–Cape Girardeau County–Minion Market
  • Garrett Samek–Polk County–Fishing Opportunities
  • Chloe Kraemer–Jefferson County–Butterfly Tea House
  • Audrey Evans–Clinton County–Poultry Production
  • Judd Lawson–Cedar County–Pac-Man Pancakes

SIDEBAR: Missouri AfterSchool Network

Missouri’s young entrepreneurs were not the only ones turning challenges into opportunities this spring. In response to COVID-19, the Missouri AfterSchool Network (MASN) had to move its professional development activities online through the end of May.

In 10 weeks, more than 3,000 staff members and representatives of after-school programs will have attended 16 online professional development sessions. Within a week of transitioning online, MASN staff began delivering training on topics such as Teaching STEM, Virtual Mentoring, Importance of Play for Children, Service Learning, SEL for Staff and Students, Entrepreneurship, Cyberbullying, Finding Inspiration, Student Behavior as Communication, Virtual Activities, Creative Thinking and Laughter, and the 4-H Model of Experiential Learning.

Additionally, MASN leaders quickly developed training specific to COVID-19 challenges after-school providers may face, including Prepping Staff to Return to Work, Learning and Digital Skills, Planning for the Future, Effects of Trauma on Students, and How to Best Serve Students as We Return.

Image available for this release:
Winning pitches from the 2020 Young Entrepreneurs Pitch Challenge included, clockwise from top, School Bus Tracker, Benjamin Foulkes; Alert Bracelet, Devin Elkins; Drawergenizer, Anna Temple; Brush and Plunge, L J Temple.