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NEXTFLEX SPONSORS “SHARK TANK” CHALLENGE FOR SAN JOSE AREA HIGH SCHOOL ENTREPRENEURS


FlexFactor competitors with their design for a flexible sensor that collects a wide range of health-related data.

Earlier this month I sat on a panel for FlexFactor at Willow Glen High School. A class of about 30 AP Biology students broken up into small teams gave “Shark Tank” style pitches about devices and products they designed, utilizing flexible circuit technology. Applications ranged from mouth guards that could detect an athlete’s hydration level, to non-obstructive patches that could detect blood glucose levels for Type 1 diabetics. Other cool applications were an allergen medication patch that would administer the exact amount of epinephrine needed based on inflammation detected in the blood and a device that can detect the levels of leptin hormone to evaluate sleep quality.

Prior to the pitch competition, students toured Jabil’s Blue Sky facility in San Jose and spent four weeks doing an intensive deep-dive into the world of hybrid and flexible technology.  A description of the program can be found in a message from NextFlex Executive Director, Dr. Malcolm J. Thompson.

FlexFactor is an entrepreneurship and technology program for local high schoolers designed to introduce students to the education and career pathways associated with advanced manufacturing. During the project, students work in teams to conceptualize an advanced hardware product that solves a human health or performance monitoring problem, develop a business model around it, and pitch it, Shark Tank-style, to a panel of representatives. Along the way, students also earn college credit through a dual enrollment program with Evergreen Valley College.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, (center), with NextFlex Executive Director Dr. Malcolm J. Thompson (fifth from right), Brynt Parmeter, NextFlex Director of Workforce Development (left), with the original cohort of Flex Factor students at Lincoln High School in the fall of 2016 as they receive their certificates of completion.

 FlexFactor scaled from eight students in the pilot in the fall of 2016 to 214 students in the spring of 2017., and is on track to graduate 1000 students next year.

The program has involved seven industry partners (including Jabil and Flex, Inc., formerly Flextronics, two community colleges (San Jose City College, and Evergreen Valley College, which helped pilot the program), six high schools (Lincoln, Calaveras Hills, Overfelt, Willow Glen, and Wilcox), five school districts, five nonprofits, and three government organizations. Thirtyfour mentors and 41 panelists from these organizations were active participants, and I was delighted to serve on a panel.

“By creatively blending entrepreneurship, advanced manufacturing, and project based learning, we are bringing students and STEAM sector companies closer to one another for amazing career pathway opportunities that benefit both groups,” said program organizer, Emily McGrath, Deputy Director of Workforce Development at NextFlex.

The program is expanding rapidly both regionally and nationally.   The organizers at NextFlex – Emily McGrath and Brynt Parmeter – are actively recruiting additional partners from any sector for tours, mentoring, and paneling opportunities. People, schools, and businesses can get involved by reaching out to Emily McGrath at emcgrath@nextflex.us or Brynt Parmeter, (Director of Workforce Development at NextFlex) at gparmeter@nextflex.us.