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Students pitch ways to improve the state’s foster care system

Hosted by WVU’s Encova Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

In the COVID-19 summer of 2020, it probably couldn’t have been anything but a mask.

At least that’s what Ana Galvez Tolia was thinking.

“I was thinking about safety when we got back to school,” said Ana, who will be a fourth-grader this fall at St. Francis Central Catholic. “So I came up with the idea of a cool-feeling, comfortable mask.” 

Which she named, Hygeia Comfi Maska. 

No mask could hide her surprise when she found out she won first place in the elementary school category for a state competition held virtually at WVU earlier this month.

 It was just as much about empowering people as it was turning profits.

The idea was to see which student across the Mountain State in kindergarten through 12th grade could virtually pitch the best idea for a product that would do the above — with a combination of altruism and budding acumen.

Pitch, they did, in the inaugural competition staged Aug. 5.

Besides the now-requisite facial covering idea, competitors talked up ways to improve the  state’s foster care system. And they promoted ideas for compassionate care venues for pets.

Another idea was a heritage hiking app to showcase the place Frank Vitale doesn’t want them to leave.

“So many great ideas,” said Vitale, an entrepreneur whose Morgantown-based Forge Business Solutions consulting firm works to keep human potential on the profit side of the cost ledger.

His firm was the among the sponsors of the event hosted by WVU’s Encova Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The Encova Center strives to do the same for the region from its place in the university’s Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship Applied Ecosystem — or “IDEA,” as the network is known.

“Our competitors were all bright,” Vitale said. “Now we just have to find a way to keep them in West Virginia.” 

Tara St. Clair, a consult in the Encova Center, agreed.

“I was blown away by the ideas and even more impressed by the creative videos they produced,” she said.

Those included a 90-second video with the student making the initial pitch of the product or outreach. That was the first round.

The second round also required an additional 3-minute video, followed by live question-and-answer session, via remote, with the judges.

“It’s about empowering young people and getting them thinking,” Vitale said.

“And if they keep thinking they just might come up with that one idea that changes everything.” 

The top pitches also netted cash prizes, and students from Morgantown swept the elementary school division.

The winners:

Elementary school 

  •  Hygeia Comfi Maska — Ana Galvez Tolia, St. Francis Central, $500.
  • Know Your Town Treasure Hunt — Archie Collignon, Suncrest Elementary, $250.
  • Foster Care Alternative For West Virginia — Camila Garcia, St. Francis Central, $100.
  • History Hike App — Konrad and Milan Medan, Mountainview Elementary, $50. 

Middle school 

  • Squirrel Away — Savannah Grose, South Charleston Middle; and COVID Kits — Samantha Zizzi, South Middle, Morgantown (first-place tie and $500 award for both).
  • Kids’ Baking Competition — Addy Zizzi, South Middle, $250.
  • Daniel’s Pet Care — Daniel Yearego, Bridgeport Middle, $100 

High School 

  • Students Connect — Lauren Shen, Morgantown High, $500.

People’s choice 

  •  Know Your Town Treasure Hunt, $100.

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