Square1, St. X to host 1st high school pitch competition

Student teams representing nine area high schools are set to take part in a regional business pitch competition this January.

The X-Squared High School Pitch Competition Plus is a partnership between St. Xavier High School and Square1. New in 2024, the contest features 35 teams of one to three students.

Participating high schools are Covington Catholic (one team), DePaul Cristo Rey (one team), Ignite Institute (one team), Notre Dame Academy (four teams), Ursuline Academy (four teams), Beechwood (two teams), Harrison (nine teams), St. Xavier (12 teams) and Ross (one team).

The all-day event will take place Jan. 27 at St. Xavier on W. North Bend Road.

“The students come from a variety of backgrounds and programs from DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) and entrepreneurship to STEM,” said Keith Schneider, president and founder of Square1. “I am excited to see how the ideas shape up and the students rise to the occasion.”

Major opportunities for big ideas

X-Squared will consist of two rounds. Teams will present an eight-minute business pitch to a panel of 24 judges. Judges represent sectors ranging from higher education and the business community to financial lending institutions and startup hubs.

One judge is Cintrifuse CEO Pete Blackshaw. Other judges include professors and staff from the regional universities, local entrepreneurs, as well as community and business leaders. 

The X-Squared field has two divisions: schools that offer entrepreneurship classes, or ENTPs, and those that don’t. The three best ENTP teams and the two best non-ENTP teams will share their ideas again in front of all teams and judges.

Members of the winning team will share a $1,500 cash prize, and the runners up will take home $500. Both teams will also receive a matching team scholarship to attend a participating university. Colleges include Miami University, University of Cincinnati, University of Dayton, Mount St. Joseph University, Northern Kentucky University, Thomas More University and Xavier University.

St. Xavier’s entrepreneurship and innovation team

Timothy “Mac” McDonald, chair of entrepreneurship and innovation at St. Xavier, started the school’s foundational entrepreneurship class in 2017. Three years later, the school added a second entrepreneurship class focused on experiential learning.

In 2021, St. Xavier started the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and a year later added a third entrepreneurship class titled Innovation & Venture Creation that focuses on developing the skills you need to be a successful entrepreneur.

When McDonald took the job at St. Xavier, there were existing pitch competitions, he said, However, at the time, students were only battling for scholarship monies to the university where the event took place.

“One of the things I wanted to do was to have a high school pitch competition that was different than the pitches that colleges hosted,” McDonald said. That’s when he met Schneider.

“Keith already was doing a pitch competition at Thomas More and so I shared with him this new, different concept,” McDonald said. “He liked my concept and we hit it off right away.”

Supporting the next generation of innovators

Square1 is a nonprofit focused on inspiring and supporting emerging entrepreneurs in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky through its NEXT programming. The organization has been running high school pitch contests and programming for the last decade.

Through this partnership with St. Xavier, Square1 aims to offer students an opportunity to test out their big ideas in front of leading experts from the startup and innovation sectors.

There were more than 65 applicants from nearly two dozen schools for the inaugural X-Squared competition. McDonald said the original goal was to attract at least 15.

Square1 hosts NEXT youth programming throughout the year.

Prior to the competition, participating teams will meet with subject matter experts from Square1 and project partners to further develop their ideas and finalize their pitches.

Between rounds, students will attend a professional development workshop. Jeff Berding will deliver a keynote address. The co-CEO of FC Cincinnati is a St. Xavier graduate.

“The opportunity to partner with St. Xavier has allowed us to reach out to more schools and develop even more innovators and future entrepreneurs,” Schneider said.

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