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New Mexico State University

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NMSU's Innoventure competition sparks students' creativity

Wanted: Young minds with great ideas.



Garrey Carruthers, dean of the NMSU College of Business and vice president for economic development, visits with Innoventure contestants at the 2010-2011 competition. (Submitted photo)

The Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University is launching its ninth annual Innoventure competition for middle- and high-school students across the state who want to create and learn how to market their own products. Innoventure encourages students to use science, technology, engineering and math to solve business problems. With Innoventure, students have the opportunity to create something new and innovative that may have true marketability.

Each year, Innoventure has a theme that helps steer students in the creation of their products. This year's theme is a fitting one for a land-grant university such as NMSU ? agriculture.

"We're asking the kids to imagine that their principal has come to their class and told them that the school is going to have a school-run farm. The kids have to come up with some products that can be used on the farm to make it more efficient and sustainable," said Marie Borchert, an education specialist at Arrowhead Center. "We look for trends when picking themes and this year we wanted to bring in the agricultural aspect of NMSU."

The entire Innoventure competition is run through a social networking site that disseminates important information and assists teams with questions. The site, www.innoventurenetwork.org, has video presentations, photos and links to individual team websites. This online social presence encourages students to use new forms of technology to communicate, just as they would in the business world.

"It really demonstrates the benefits of technology and the power of networking in making connections," said Erika Dunn, entrepreneurship specialist for the Arrowhead Center.

The Innoventure process is a rigorous one, but many students have returned to the competition year after year. The skills they learn include product design, time management, writing and teamwork. From August through March, students work diligently to make it to the final competition.

Innoventure has come a long way from the first competition, when Borchert was "pounding the pavement" to get just five local student teams to register. Last year, 70 middle- and high-school teams from schools throughout the state entered the competition. Organizers now have to hold a preliminary competition to whittle down the number of hopefuls for the finals to a more manageable 40 teams of three-to-five students.

The final competition is set for March 9, and several panels of NMSU faculty in business and engineering, as well as members of the Las Cruces business community, will select a winning team in the high school and middle school categories. Just like the students, judges over the years have grown increasingly enthusiastic about their job.

"Our judges start calling us sometime in November asking us when Innoventure is this year, because they want to get it on their calendars," Borchert said. "We don't have to go out and solicit judges anymore; they're calling us."

The criteria for a winning team are clear: a functional product prototype, a strong marketing plan and a well-written and well-organized business plan.

Last year, each member of the winning teams received a Kindle, with the high school students each receiving an additional $350 scholarship to NMSU.

The registration deadline for the 2011-2012 Innoventure competition is Sept. 30. For more information, visit www.innoventurenetwork.org.