Startable helps Pittsburgh-area high schoolers become entrepreneurs

This time of year, lots of kids are competing in WPIAL athletic championships. But there is a group of high schoolers competing in something with potentially even higher stakes — entrepreneurship. It’s a “Shark Tank”-like program called Startable, which is part of Innovation Works.

At Northgate High School in Bellevue, a group of girls is working on their business plan for apparel for people with limb deficiencies like amputations and prosthetics, with snaps that can adapt the length to their needs.

“We wanted to make something that looked cool and that didn’t look like, ‘Oh yeah, this kid has a limb deficiency. Like something you wouldn’t even point out or notice,” says Skye Jackson, a Northgate High School junior.

Skye’s team won the Startable competition last year and continued with the class and after-school program to learn more and further develop their idea.


Students, says Startable program manager Shelly Brown, have fresh perspectives that can help change the world.

“We recognize that there are grand challenges across the world and around the country that are not necessarily being met by entrepreneurs of today,” Brown says, “and so we want to ensure that students are prepared and ready to meet some of these challenges that need new creativity and new eyes.”

Startable provides funding to support the cost of a teacher and supplies for the nine-week high school program. The program specifically seeks out those under-represented in entrepreneurship, like women and people of color.

Northgate is one of six schools in the nine-county Pittsburgh region with Startable groups this spring. Each student who completes the program gets $100, and $1,000 goes to the winning team.

Charles Walker is a junior at Northgate and is working on his business plan. “My idea is actually called HydroMotors,” Charles says. “It’s a water-powered engine.”

Kadenne Kemp, also a junior, describes his team’s idea for a bracelet that works as an alarm to wake you up with electrical stimulation: “Most people have trouble waking up in the morning,” Kadenne says, “so we designed something that helps you. It’s a wristband that connects to your wrist.”

Each group comes up with their own idea, then creates a business plan and presentation for the competition — learning many important skills in the process.

Kadenne says he’s learned a lot through the Startable pitch experience: “Definitely communication, like talking in front of people,” he says. “Sometimes you may think something in your head, and when you say it out loud, it might not make as much sense. So learning to really talk.”

Startable has inspired some students to pursue entrepreneurship beyond the class. One of these is Jay Shane, who decided to go to college for business instead of going right into the workforce.

Skye has also found a path inspired by Startable: “I’ve found that I really liked photography. So now I’m starting my own photography business, and that’s really pushed me to be an entrepreneur.”

At the competition on May 11, a team from Northgate High School won the $1,000 Trailblazer Award for their idea called “Budget Boss.” It’s an AirTag-like device that alerts students when they get near or at their designated budget to help them stick to their spending plan.

In the 10 years of the program, some students have pursued their idea after high school and turned those ideas into successful businesses, including a self-leveling cup.

Click here to learn more about Startable. And if you’d like to reach out to see if your school can participate, you can email Shelly Brown at