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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Elementary School Entrepreneurs Dazzle Strome Center Audience

The three Virginia Beach elementary school students had just finished dazzling a crowd at Old Dominion University's Strome Entrepreneurial Center.

In 15 minutes, they described the two products they had invented, and then 3-D printed - a small plastic clip that keeps a pen or pencil attached to a clipboard; and an ingenious re-arrangeable plastic tray designed to keep compartments separate in a softcover lunchbox.

The presentation so impressed the audience that James Shaeffer, founding Dean of Old Dominion's College of Continuing Education and Professional Development, asked about ordering the clipboard writing implement holder with logos. Other questions came fast and furious for the group: "Do they have a plan to distribute?" "Have they looked at partners?" "Do they have a patent for the concepts?"

Nine-year-old Joshua Yang put his hand up. "Do you mind if I ask a question?" the rising Fourth Grade student at Strawbridge Elementary asked politely.

"What's a patent?"

The small episode, which brought a smile to the face of the adults who had watched the presentation by the precocious youngsters, was a reminder that a good business idea can come from anyone - at any age.

The Virginia Beach City School Division is planning an entrepreneurship academy. And Aaron Spence, Division superintendent, sees Old Dominion University, and the Strome Entrepreneurial Center, as a key resource.

"You sit back and you marvel at these kids, when you realize how incredibly creative they are," Spence said, after watching the presentation by his Division students with pride. "What they've been missing is someone talking to them about how to make a business out of their passion."

The trio of entrepreneurs - Yang, Landon Phelan and William Pappas - entered an entrepreneurship competition held as part of the STEM Robotics and Maker Challenge in Virginia Beach in June. Nancy Grden, executive director of the Strome Entrepreneurial Center, was a judge for the competition, and invited the Strawbridge team to present their ideas.

Grden said nurturing that entrepreneurial spirit is important at Old Dominion University, too.

"I have had the pleasure previously of seeing these entrepreneurs in action," she said. "We've got entrepreneurship and innovation in common, so we are eager to be a resource for students like these, and the proposed academy."

In the polished presentation, the students mentioned they had already printed and sold 346 of the clipboard clips, which they dub the "Slip Clip" - pouring the profits back into supplies for the 3-D printer. The "Meal Maze," consisting of a plastic base and moveable dividers to organize a lunchbox, elicited many "Why didn't I think of that?" expressions from the audience.

The students' superintendent stressed that there are many smart, motivated and ingenious students following right behind this trio.

"I know how much is written about how our public schools are failing our children," Spence said. "That's because we aren't letting them know about students like Joshua, and Landon and William, and they amazing work they do."

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