Innovative business ideas win regional students scholarships in Appalachian’s GEAR UP Pitch Competition

BOONE, N.C. — An organic, homemade sanitizer spray and a car pedal extension device took the top spots in the inaugural GEAR UP Pitch Competition at Appalachian State University in late April. During the competition, middle and high school students from Ashe, Watauga and Wilkes counties pitched their innovative business ideas for a chance to earn scholarships to Appalachian. The event took place on Appalachian's campus, in the Plemmons Student Union's Greenbriar Theatre.

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Winner Names DesicriptionsThe competition was created in partnership with Appalachian's Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship (TICFE), which is housed in the university's Walker College of Business (WCOB), Appalachian's GEAR UP program, which is part of College Access Partnerships at Appalachian, and regional school systems in Western North Carolina.

"Appalachian offers a unique approach to growing entrepreneurship and economic development in the community," said Jonathan Carpenter, TICFE assistant director. "Programs like the GEAR UP Pitch Competition help support local youth to begin pursuing their passions early."

More than 20 teams participated in the competition, presenting for five to 10 minutes per team to a panel of entrepreneurs and university faculty and staff. The teams were then scored on their idea, pitch, research and prototype. High school students were also scored on the financial viability of their business ideas.

Ideas pitched included a homemade, organic sanitizer spray, a phone case that uses solar panels to power the phone and a car pedal extension device.

Scholarships were awarded to the top three teams in both high school and middle school categories. The funding for the scholarships was made possible by a donation from LifeStore Bank, a full-service banking and insurance provider based in Boone.

"As a hometown banking and insurance company, LifeStore supports and encourages young people to explore possibilities," said Judy Current, marketing and public relations director for LifeStore.

While on campus, the students, along with their teachers and family members, were given tours of Appalachian's campus and the WCOB by Walker Fellows — current Appalachian business students who helped the students learn what it's like to be a student at Appalachian.

Social entrepreneurship lecturer Jesse Pipes, who teaches in Appalachian's Department of Management, offered comments about the growth mindset and provided key concepts for young entrepreneurs, and then helped present the awards to the winning student teams.

"Our goal is to inspire and prepare future entrepreneurs by providing them a regional platform where they can share their ideas in a collaborative and competitive environment," Carpenter said.

Middle and high school students who placed first in the competition were each awarded a $100 scholarship, and those who placed second received a $75 scholarship each. Third-place winners each received a $50 scholarship. This funding will become available to the students upon their acceptance to Appalachian.

Additionally, two middle school teams — Solar Squad and Sunlight Foods — were recognized with honorable mentions, and the team members each received a $50 scholarship. Team Solar Squad pitched the idea of a phone case that uses solar panels to power the phone, and team Sunlight Foods proposed the idea of developing a food market in Zionville that would offer healthy options for area residents.

About College Access Partnerships

Appalachian State University's College Access Partnerships supports students from the Appalachian region of North Carolina in finding their own distinct path to postsecondary education. This is accomplished by supporting the work of teachers, counselors and educators, along with providing direct services to students. College Access Partnerships offers the Upward Bound and GEAR UP programs, as well as additional resources for students, families and educators. Learn more at

About Appalachian's Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship

The Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship at Appalachian State University was founded in 2006 and is housed within the university's Walker College of Business. The center helps Appalachian students — regardless of major — faculty, staff and alumni conceive, develop, incubate and launch new business ventures, turning their ideas into reality. In 2011, the center was rebranded to include Transportation Insight in its name to acknowledge a $1 million gift that enabled the center's renovation, as well as 10 years of funding. Transportation Insight is a nationally recognized third-party logistics (3PL) company specializing in supply chain management. Learn more at

About Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, Appalachian enrolls about 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.

Riley Underwood, second from left, and Kyle Hollars, third from left — both students at Mabel School in Watauga County who compose team Sunlight Foods — pose with Jonathan Carpenter, assistant director of the WCOB’s Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship, far left, and Robert E. “Bob” Washburn, president and CEO of LifeStore. Underwood and Hollars won an honorable mention in the middle school category of Appalachian’s GEAR UP Pitch Competition for their idea of developing a food market in Zionvi
Published: Jul 10, 2018 10:41am