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Student innovators tackle water conservation at this year's Innoventure program

What happens when you put together a team of curious young minds and turn them loose with a problem to solve? Some pretty innovative solutions are born.


That's what education specialist Marie Borchert has seen happen, year after year, through the Innoventure program, hosted by New Mexico State University's Arrowhead Center. Now in its 11th year, Innoventure encourages middle- and high-school students to use science, technology, engineering and math to solve business problems.

Students from across New Mexico spend about seven months developing technology to address a specific theme and building a business plan to turn their idea into a marketable product. Registration for this year's program continues through Sept. 20.

"The idea is to challenge the youth of New Mexico to become the new innovators that our society needs," Borchert said.

While many of the teams in the program are school-based, Borchert emphasized that the groups can also consist of homeschooled students, members of a Scouting or church group, or even just a handful of friends - all they need is a cooperative spirit and a parent or other adult adviser who can help them see the project through.

"The adviser doesn't need expertise in invention or business - it's very student-driven," Borchert said. "This role is really to be a cheerleader, help them with time management, provide them a place to meet and get them here for the final competition in the spring."

There's no cost for the students or the advisers to participate, and signing up is as easy as joining the Innoventure social network at www.innoventurenetwork.org. Team members sign up individually and then form a group for the team. Through the network, teams can keep up on important information and ask questions about their projects, using the technology much as they would in the business world. The site also has video presentations, photos and links to team websites.

Each team gets a budget of $150 to develop a product designed to address this year's theme - water conservation. The device might be designed for household use, municipal systems, agriculture or even food manufacturing. The students are expected to design and create a functional product prototype, a strong marketing plan and a well-written and well-organized business plan.

A project of this size requires some careful time management, so the students will need to keep up with periodic deadlines, just like they'd see during the development process at a real company. They'll get feedback throughout the project's timeline.

Cindy Yeh, whose Las Cruces High School team won the competition in 2011 and 2012, said the preparation process taught her some valuable life skills that have served her well in her studies at NMSU. Now a sophomore studying genetics, Yeh said she and her teammates learned on their feet about working together, delegating responsibility, thinking critically and creatively, doing research, and improvising with the tools at hand.

In late spring, judges will evaluate the completed projects and award high-tech prizes like cameras and tablet devices for first, second and third place. Winners at the high-school level will also each receive a $350 scholarship to attend NMSU.

Innoventure is supported by Arrowhead Center, NMSU's entrepreneurship incubator, and by grants and gifts from the Daniels Fund, Wells Fargo, AT&T and the McCune Foundation.

For more information about Innoventure or to sign up for free, visit www.innoventurenetwork.org. For additional questions, contact Borchert at mhaaland@nmsu.edu or 575-646-7839.