For Entrepreneurs, Pitching To Pint-Sized Sharks Is No Child's Play : All Tech Considered Modeled on TV's Shark Tank, entrepreneurs at a Pitch-a-Kid event in Texas had 5 minutes to sell their ideas to a panel of third- through 12th-graders and answer their no-holds-barred questions.

For Entrepreneurs, Pitching To Pint-Sized Sharks Is No Child's Play

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On "Shark Tank," the ABC reality TV show, entrepreneurs take turns pitching their business ideas to a panel of skeptical investors, otherwise known as the sharks. Now, imagine those sharks are kids. Brenda Salinas has the story from Austin, Texas.

BRENDA SALINAS, BYLINE: Entrepreneur Regina Vatterott stands up in front of 50 people on the top floor of a startup hub in Austin. She's here to pitch smart pillbox company, EllieGrid to a panel of six kid judges.

REGINA VATTEROTT: So how it works is, if you or your dad or mom has to take medications at breakfast, at breakfast time, the three compartments light up, and you would take, let's say, two from this compartment, three from this compartment and one from this compartment. And it also sends you notifications on your smartphone, so you can track it all online, too.

SALINAS: Unlike the entrepreneurs on "Shark Tank," Vatterott isn't here to get investors. There's no cash prize. Still, it's hard-fought. The kids are asking some tough questions.

EMMA FIEBIG: How do you make money?

ANICIA MONCIVAIS: Do you provide a warranty, like, if it breaks?

PIERS POWELL: How are people going to pay for it?

SALINAS: Judges Emma Fiebig, Anicia Moncivais and Piers Powell hear six more pitches, including a social media network for books and a subscription sock company idea from Melissa Huisman.

MELISSA HUISMAN: So we have a subscription business model where people sign up online on our website, and they say, give me socks every month. And so we have a sock-of-the-month club.

SALINAS: Anicia, the judge coordinator, is in high school, and the five other kids are between third and sixth grade. They turn in their score sheets, deliberate, and then...

PIERS: The judges have spoken.

SALINAS: ...Mike Millard, the founder of Pitch-A-Kid, gives out the results.

MIKE MILLARD: And the winner of this year's first Pitch-A-Kid event at the Capital Factory goes to EllieGrid.


VATTEROTT: I was a little nervous because I didn't know if they understood, you know, the grand scheme of how important medication adherence was. But they really seemed to get it. They didn't even ask questions about that.

SALINAS: Pitch-A-Kid judge and co-founder Audrey Millard says she definitely held back.

AUDREY MILLARD: My dad was telling me in the car, like, how nervous people were and how, like, they're, like, oh, I don't know how to explain this in a kid-friendly language. Oh, no, what if - what'll I do if they don't understand me - and stuff like that. So I decided not to go too hard on them.

SALINAS: Mike Millard says kids have a unique way of knowing when someone hasn't totally thought a business idea through.

MILLARD: About a year ago, I was doing a website with my daughter, and she asked me really tough questions. She said, who's the website for? How are they going to know about it? And what I realized - that they were non-filtered, honest questions on how to be successful.

SALINAS: Meaning if you can't explain it to a kid, you probably aren't ready to talk to investors. And just because the judges, like Audrey, are small, doesn't mean they don't take their job seriously, including what they were going to wear.

AUDREY: A couple of days ago, I was searching how to look businesslike.

SALINAS: The kids in the panel and in the audience got an introduction to startup culture. And the entrepreneurs practiced addressing some of the issues they need to think through for their business model to succeed. For NPR News, I'm Brenda Salinas in Austin, Texas.

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