Young Inventors brave the 'Shark Tank'
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Racoons getting into your trash cans; the classic “missing sock” predicament on laundry day; or how about your favorite book that got soaking wet when you forgot your umbrella in a rain storm?

If you can think of a problem in your daily life, chances are, there is a practical solution. That is what local middle school students have discovered as they brainstormed solutions to everyday dilemmas, as part of the Young Inventors contest.

The fifth annual program kicked off in the fall, with presentations to more than 800 middle school students in Livonia Public Schools, Clarenceville Public Schools, Wayne-Westland Community Schools and Garden City Public Schools. Race car drivers Danny Kellermeyer and Christie Bagne brought their inspiring stories to the students and encouraged them to brainstorm inventions for the contest.

The top 35 entries were displayed and the inventors were recognized during a special dinner and ceremony at Schoolcraft College, hosted by the Livonia Chamber of Commerce and Alpha USA, all sponsors of the Young Inventors program.

“You’ve absolutely knocked it out of the park tonight, kids,” Kellermeyer said to the inventors.

The students also received kudos and encouragement from Alexis Carlson, age 24, who told her story of working in the manufacturing industry and following her passions.

“As long as I can remember, I used to take things apart – radios, lights, calculators. I loved to fix things,” she said, adding that her interests were not always in line with those of a typical girl.

She attended a career tech program in high school and went on to take manufacturing classes at Schoolcraft College. She now has a successful career in manufacturing.

More encouragement came from Steve Walmsley, a patent attorney and a Franklin High School graduate who also attended Emerson Middle School – one of the schools represented at the event. He said he sees inventions every day, in his line of work.

“A lot of these here tonight are better than those that have come across my desk,” he said, noting that the students are smart for participating in the program. “You will win, over the long-term, when you participate in events like this – it’ll be very helpful to be able to draw from this. You’re very fortunate to have this program.”

Top Sharks

The awards event carried a “Shark Tank” theme, named for the TV show in which inventors pitch their ideas to a tough panel of business gurus and investors. Some of the inventions included a hairbrush that doubles as a hair product dispenser; socks that have built-in Velcro pieces that prevent the socks from getting separated in the wash; “Glow Books” that not only have glow-in-the-dark print, but are also waterproof; and many more.

Taking first place in the contest was Hannah Heskett, an Emerson Middle School student in Livonia Public Schools. She invented the “Raccoon Can’t Can,” which prevents critters from getting into trash cans. 

Second place went to Mark Popkov, a Clarenceville Middle School student who invented the Sunflower Energy of the Future.

Third place went to Grace Holman, a Holmes Middle School student in Livonia Public Schools, who invented the Bat Warmer, to solve the issue of baseball and softball bats being too cold and cracking.

Dan West, president and CEO of the Livonia Chamber of Commerce, said all of the students were to be commended for their creative inventions and for their bravery in presenting their inventions to an audience of about 250 people. 
Young Inventors

Young Inventors
Race car drivers Christie Bagne and Danny Kellermeyer offered words of kudos and encouragement to the students during the Young Inventors awards dinner at Schoolcraft College. 

Young Inventors
Hannah Heskett, center, took first place for her Raccoon Can't Can invention.

Young Inventors
Kaytlin Prush talked about her invention that assists people with special needs. 

Young Inventors
Aidan Oke talks about his invention called Glow Books. 

Young Inventors
The overall winners, from left, Mark Popkov, Grace Holman and Hannah Heskett.