Young Innovator Competition Stimulates Minds of Today’s Kids

The USF-sponsored contest not only encourages creativity and ingenuity in school children, it also rewards them for their efforts. A Clearwater High student took the top prize in the competition last year.

As any parent knows, kids always have a million ideas floating around in their heads. 

Whether it’s finding a better way to make their beds or an easier way to turn the pages of their textbooks, there’s no limit to a child’s capacity to come up with new ways to do things.

Anton Hopen, a local patent lawyer and USF grad, decided to do something to help stimulate these ideas and provide kids with an outlet for their creativity.

Five years ago, Hopen founded the Young Innovator Competition, a contest open to grades K-12 in eight Tampa Bay counties, as a way to encourage kids’ creative side while rewarding the best ideas. 

“We ask the kids who enter the competition to think of a problem, come up with a solution, and tell us what they can do to make a situation better,” Hopen, who has an office in Oldsmar, told Patch via telephone. 

“We’re trying to get inventors and entrepreneurs and stimulate that entrepreneurial spirit in kids,” he said.

The contest, which began on Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 25, is easy to enter and requires little more than an idea and some time spent on the Internet.

All the student has to do is visit the competition’s website and fill out the online entry form. There, they provide a name and trademark for the product, the reason why they came up with the idea and a sketch of the product.

Entrants will be whittled down to 50, and then to a pool of 10 finalists. Those 10 will then undergo a week of training by qualified professionals before making a final presentation to a team of judges at USF’s Patel Center on Feb. 13.

Each applicant will receive a day pass to MOSI, while the top prize is $1,000 for the entrant and their school. Last year Hopen said they received nearly 600 applications.

“What’s nice is that everybody gets something,” Hopen said. “We want everybody to have motivation to do this.”

A Clearwater High student took home the top prize in her age group in the 2012 contest. Students from Oak Grove Middle and St. Paul's School also were honored.

Safety Harbor City Commissioner Cliff Merz has a special interest in this program. 

In addition to having two of his kids in the competition, he is a research engineer at USF who holds one patent and was a preliminary judge for the contest last year.

Merz believes competitions like this are invaluable to kids as well as companies looking for fresh ideas. 

“It lets kids who are entrepreneurial minded know what’s out there,” he said. “This may be a way for them to take an idea and move it from their head and put it into practice.”

“To me it’s moving education and the business community together. It’s more than just a science project. It’s taking it to that next step."

Even with the deadline for entries approaching, Hopen says it’s not too late to apply. 

“We usually get the majority of the applications in the final week,” he said. “Some are coming in at midnight on the last day.”

To enter the Young Innovators Competition, visit their website and fill out the entry form. The last day to submit an application is at midnight on Jan. 25. The final ten applicants will face off Feb. 11 at the Patel Center on the campus of the University of South Florida in Tampa.

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