Right as the competition started, Annalee Roustio and her teammates had a leg up on the other 11 teams in Friday’s MECA Challenge in Blue Springs – at least when it came to conjuring a nickname.
While all other entrepreneurial teams at the Bartow Administrative Center had six students, three each from Blue Springs and South high schools, Roustio’s team had just five overall.
“We were ‘The Pentagon,” she said. “One of our members didn’t show up.”
The day-long program, hosted by the Center for Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development and UMKC, is “an experiential learning program for students interested in innovation and entrepreneurship,” as described on the CEED website. MECA stands for “Most Entrepreneurial City in America,” referring to the Kansas City metro area, CEED co-founder Adam Arredondo said.
The student teams, guided by a mentor from the entrepreneurial community, choose one of four possible real business problems from local startups. In the afternoon, they presented their solutions to a panel of judges.
“I honestly didn’t think I would talk so much with people who are entrepreneurs in Kansas City,” Roustio said. “It’s way more than I could have anticipated. I know Kansas City has had a resurgence in a lot of ways, but I didn’t know about the entrepreneurship and innovation.”
Arredondo praised Annette Seago, deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the Blue Springs School District, for the smooth event.
“It was the biggest MECA Challenge we’ve ever had,” Arredondo said. “We’ve had four previously, and they’ve all been around 30 students. Annette and her team at Blue Springs were fantastic, and had it well-organized. The model is pretty simple, and the quality is dependent on the mentors we get.”
Katie Woolf, director of communications for the Blue Springs district, said the high school students had to be taking marketing, entrepreneur or accounting classes at the high schools in order to sign up for the event.
Judges were: Tim Jones, director of technology for the Blue Springs district; Zach Pettet, entrepreneurship major at UMKC; and Mike Millay, head of an independent family owned insurance business in the city.
Arredondo said the MECA Challenge isn’t about training future entrepreneurs as much as building the entrepreneurial mindset.
“Critical thinking, problem solving, calculated risk-taking – it makes you a more valuable contributor no matter what your career is,” he said.
The winning team consisted of Dan-Eli De La Torre, Samuel Belete and Chandler Rowley from Blue Springs High School and Jai Huntley, Simone Gregory and Erin Davis-Hayter from South.
The runner-up team consisted of Kaira Zavala, Sahar Aslami and Tara Orr from Blue Springs and Jesus Zaragoza, Damien Coble and Dani DelaChica from South. Taking third was the team of Taylor White, Dominique Downton and Shawna Ellis from Blue Springs and Max Fellers, Hunter Jenkins and Brett Buchannon from South.