Junior Achievement and the Future of Innovation

A cartoon shark swimming with little fish and the words "Swimming with the Big Fish."

According to statistics, approximately 5% of all patent holders profit from their innovative ideas. While the odds of developing the next future-changing product are even less, it doesn’t stop young minds with ambitious goals from trying.

On April 3rd, Junior Achievement of Las Vegas (JA) held its sixth annual “Swimming with the Big Fish” event featuring twenty teams of Clark County School District students whose ages ranged from 9 to 11. Three top teams gave Shark Tank-type presentations in front of a judging panel and an audience of the Greater Las Vegas Metropolitan Area business leaders.

The winning innovation was ‘Dog Scratch Pad,’ which keeps nails short without clipping. Second place was the ‘Safety Measures First’ necklace, which has an emergency help button and pepper spray. Third place was ‘Baby Cup,’ which is designed to limit choking. While the ideas presented in this year’s Swimming with the Big Fish event might not be candidates for invention of the year, they were presented with enthusiastic imagination.

The JA program aims to inspire and influence young minds, equipping them with essential skills such as financial literacy, career readiness, and entrepreneurial thinking.

Many JA success stories focus on the personal development of students. A shy student who initially struggled to participate in JA activities might blossom into a confident leader through the program’s interactive lessons and teamwork exercises. This newfound confidence can translate into academic success, improved social skills, and a stronger belief in their ability to achieve their goals.

The key to any successful business idea is finding a need and solving it—age is not a barrier.

  • In 1824, at the age of 12, Louis Braille, who was visually impaired, published a book about his system, Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Songs by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them. The Braille System is still in use today.
  • In 1920, at the age of 14, Philo Farnsworth sketched his first concept art for a device that could display motion pictures. In 1927, Farnsworth built the first fully functional electronic television system based on his “image dissector” (TV camera and receiver) and formed the Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
  • In 1641, at the age of 18, Blaise Pascal invented the mechanical calculator, which is one of the most important and frequently used tools of all time.

These brilliant youngsters are notable for their timeless contributions; however, contrary to the popular stereotype of young, tech-savvy college dropouts, according to a study by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the median age for an innovator in the United States is 47.

Regarding education, 35.7% of innovators hold a Ph.D., 31.8% have a Masters or other Graduate Degree, 19.6% have Undergraduate Degrees, and 2.9% are either high school graduates or less.

Interestingly, 12% of U.S. innovators are women, and 46% are immigrants or the children of immigrants.

While imagining and developing an innovative idea or product may be an easy first step, the ITIF reports that 28% of innovations face barriers to commercialization. Of those facing barriers, 33% are due to regulatory challenges, and 58% are due to a lack of funding for further development.

Collaboration was crucial to the success of one out of five products studied, and 50% of those came from a public-private partnership.

If a person does develop an innovative idea, experts advise to:

  • Research to make sure there is a market for the product
  • Find a good patent lawyer to protect the idea
  • Be prepared to spend the time needed to promote and get the product to retail.

 The ITIF believes that the quality and number of innovative ideas can be improved by:

  • Improving STEM education and empowering students of all backgrounds to pursue creative fields.
  • Incentivize collaborations between public and private entities.
  • Expanding government funding.

The Las Vegas chapter of JA encourages young minds to become innovative thinkers by providing programs in a multitude of settings, including rural, urban, and suburban schools, public, private, and parochial schools, and many after-school venues. Annually, JA reaches over 20,000 students in Southern Nevada and has impacted more than 500,000 since opening the office in 1996. More than 285 area businesses and 6,800 role models have provided the students with hands-on economic education programs correlating to Common Core standards.

One of the sponsors of this year’s Swimming with the Big Fish event was Purdue Marion & Associates, a Las Vegas public relations and digital marketing firm that invited me to sit at their table with two future entrepreneurs, Damian Bernal and Carolina Zuniga Hilva.

L to R Front: Carolina Zuniga Hilva, Damian Bernal, Back: David Cabral, Bill Marrion

Like the Junior Achievement program, Business Finance Corporation (BFC) encourages the development of innovative ideas by enabling businesses to turn earned accounts receivable money into ready cash. To learn more about AR Factoring and to see if your business qualifies, go to https://bfc.vegas/ or call 702-947-3800.

Your Partner in Success,

David Cabral