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Arrowhead Center introduces Innoventure Challenge for middle and high school students

Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University is introducing a new format for its Innoventure entrepreneurship and prototyping competition this academic year. Now called Innoventure Challenge, the new format keeps its focus on business development and prototype design while incorporating a more flexibile time commitment for teachers and students.

Four males working on a laptop together
Community mentor and New Mexico State University College of Business alum Jorge Aguirre, standing, talks with Innoventure High School Challenge competitors Adam Duenas, left, Colton Montoya, and Nathan Rubalcava, right, all students at Gadsden High School, during the Innoventure High School Challenge competition day April 5, 2019, at NMSU. Innoventure Challenge, part of NMSU’s Arrowhead Center, will be open to middle school and high school students during the upcoming academic year. (NMSU photo by Justin Santiago)
Girl in blue sweater holding prototype
Innoventure High School Challenge participant Bella Roy, a student at Portales High School, describes the prototype she and teammate Nakia Jackson created for the “Nice Needle,” a device to make getting a shot less scary for children. Their team, Rad Blue, Inc., won first place in the first Innoventure High School Challenge competition on April 5, 2019. Innoventure Challenge, part of NMSU’s Arrowhead Center, will be open to middle school and high school students during the upcoming academic year. (NMSU photo by Justin Santiago)

Also new this year are cash prizes available to winning high school teams who travel to NMSU for the competition’s final round.

Historically, Innoventure teams committed to a 9-month milestone-based program culminating in a large competition day for all participating teams in May.

“We’ve received feedback from our teachers and students that they wanted more options for how they can engage with the Innoventure program during the school year,” said Amanda Bradford, director of Innoventure. “Students, especially in high school, are pressed for time with schoolwork and other extracurricular activities. If we can let them choose times that work better for them, we hope to allow more students to enjoy the experience of entrepreneurship.”

Following a successful pilot of this format with high school participants during the last school year, the new Innoventure Middle School Challenge and Innoventure High School Challenge programs roll out in September for all students in New Mexico and the El Paso area.

Innoventure Challenge will have the middle school and high school students competing on two separate tracks, with multiple, independent rounds spaced through the academic year.

Middle school participants will have about four weeks to complete each preliminary round, while high school teams will have a more challenging two-week timeline. Guided by learning modules, videos and worksheets, the teams will create a business plan and a simple prototype based on a new theme each round. They’ll submit a short video pitch of their product at the end of the round for the Innoventure team to judge.

Each team’s video pitch will include an explanation or demonstration of their product prototype, along with information about their target customers, the value of their product, and how they would market and distribute it.

For each preliminary round, finalists will selected to attend the final competition day at NMSU’s Las Cruces campus. Innoventure Middle School Challenge competition day will take place March 6, 2020, and Innoventure High School Challenge competition day will take place on April 3, 2020. Travel costs will be paid for the finalists to the one-day challenge that will determine the winning teams for the year.

“Innoventure has had the long-time generous support of the Colorado-based Daniels Fund, allowing for the creation of educational material and refinement of the program for a tailored outreach to more students in New Mexico, and now El Paso,” Bradford said. The Innoventure Challenge will also be supported by El Paso’s STTE (Success Through Technology Education) Foundation, which will be the cash prize sponsor for the winning high school teams. Other supporters include Wells Fargo and the Air Force Research Laboratory.

While no budget is provided to teams for prototype materials in the preliminary rounds, items on the approved list of materials will be easily found in classrooms, gathered from recyclables, or purchased with minimal expense. “Our expectation is that these prototypes serve as storytelling tools for the team’s video pitch,” Bradford said. “It’s OK if they’re not fully functional.”

On the final competition day, materials will be provided for all teams – and thanks to the financial support of the Air Force Research Laboratory, those supply stations will include technology and materials developed recently at the labs across the country, allowing students to explore the commercial applications of interesting new technologies.

Student teams will have Arrowhead Center-facilitated mentors available to contact during the preliminary rounds and will also work with a mentor in the final challenge.

Teams can only win one preliminary round, but all teams are encouraged to participate in as many rounds as they can. “The Innoventure Challenge competition day will be a synthesis and application of the skills they learned during those preliminary rounds, so we’ll provide feedback to every team that will help them improve from one round to the next,” said Innoventure Deputy Director Lydia Hammond, who will oversee the high school track.

“These shorter rounds will also allow teachers to integrate these modules within their already established lessons plans or add content like reflective writing assignments or research projects that build on this material,” Bradford added.

For more information on how to participate, contact Bradford at ambradfo@nmsu.edu or 575-646-7148 or Hammond at lh@nmsu.edu or 575-646-5230. Registration for the first round of Innoventure Middle School Challenge begins Aug. 20, 2019, and registration for the first round of Innoventure High School Challenge begins Sept. 2, 2019. To register, visit http://arrowheadcenter.nmsu.edu/innoventure.