Kyle Gillis and James Carnes, both seniors at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, have built a “STEM kit” called Iconic EDU, which enables students to fuse concepts taught in the classroom to real world ideas. The duo came up with the idea by building a drone from scratch, while making educational YouTube videos. Through these kits, the team creates hands-on experiences that teach students STEM-related topics that they can do in the classroom or at home.
The idea has such momentum that the two now find themselves in the finals of the West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition, a competition designed to encourage college students statewide to turn their ideas into real businesses. The competition is hosted by the BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in WVU’s John Chambers College of Business and Economics, and is in the finals stage of the 13th annual event.
“Any teacher can use our step-by-step tutorial videos to facilitate the assembly of our products,” said Gillis, a native of Wheeling. “Our first kit comes with all the parts needed for students to build and fly a small drone they can use to gather and analyze different types of data.”
The two said that the goal is to teach kids how to think like professionals in the fields of science and technology.
“Our STEM kits enable students to connect concepts taught in the classroom to real world examples,” said Carnes.
A native of Weirton, Carnes recalled that he and Gillis combined their passions and talents for the business idea after building the drone from scratch. The business plan is a mix of their talents in creating and tinkering, blended with producing educational videos on YouTube. And the idea was born.
The team members said they wanted to get the kits into educational-based camps and school campuses. They think both would benefit, especially because hands-on projects have personally helped them learn.
“This business is what created new career goals for me. It turns out the cliché ‘scratch your own itch’ mentality is powerful,” Gillis said. “You should set out to solve the problems that you have. I didn’t care what teachers were presenting in high school, but when you put something in my hands, I would explode with interest.”
The business plan competition will award prizes of $10,000 in each of three categories of competition. But these teammates said that the experience they have gained by participating in the competition is invaluable all by itself.
“The competition has given us the opportunity to network with other talented students who also have great startup ideas,” said Carnes. “Competing in each round has allowed us to turn our idea into a reality.”
Gillis added that being in the competition has made them look at their business idea from different perspectives.
“The business plan competition has really helped us in terms of expanding our business idea and to impact children’s education,” he said. “It’s exciting to continually think of the aspects of the business in ways we haven’t before.”
WV Forward is a statewide collaboration led by West Virginia University, the state Department of Commerce and Marshall University to help grow the economy by adding jobs, investing in education, and improving health and wellness to create the most prosperous West Virginia possible.
The BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is part of the WVU Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship Applied Ecosystem, a university-wide network of centers, offices and programs that fosters and supports innovation and entrepreneurship among WVU students, faculty and staff while engaging the statewide community. A visual map of the full ecosystem and detailed information about the resources included can be found here.