When Patchogue-Medford High School juniors Emily Skorupski and Maya Marquez-Sturm heard about the Patchogue Young Professionals’ “Shark Tank” challenge in December, their brains clicked on “go.”
The two friends, who live in Medford, won a $1,000 check for their efforts in developing a global active app called “Gaia” for people to find organizations they care about and then sign on to support them.
The young women, who live 5 miles apart, collaborated via phone or Zoom.
“In January, we started working on it,” said Skorupski. “We sat down and recorded ourselves. The original idea of helping people was Maya’s.”
“And you had the idea about the donation,” said Marquez-Sturm, countering with her friend’s contribution.
(You would want these two on your team, staff, whatever. The interview took place at The Hero Joint with these alert go-getters.)
“That’s 100 percent guiding them for when they aren’t in high school,” said Patchogue-Medford High School business teacher and work-based learning coordinator, Jason Smiloff, of the Patchogue Young Professionals collaboration.
Smiloff is also the Corporate Raiders Club advisor.
Smiloff, who became a staff member at the high school in 2019, had reached out to the community and connected with the Patchogue Young Professionals. A “Shark Tank” was in the works February of last year; then COVID hit.
“Two guest speakers conducted a Zoom meeting this past December, talking about their careers to five classes, and announced at the end of their talk they would do another ‘Shark Tank,’” he said. “There were 100 kids online.”
Don’t know about the premise for “Shark Tank”? It’s an Emmy Award-winning show in its 11th year. Encouraging entrepreneurship, the “sharks” are highly successful, self-made multi-millionaire and billionaire business tycoons who invest in great business products. Contestants on the show pitch their ideas in hopes of securing venture capital from the sharks for hoped-for businesses. The sharks, in turn, usually want a share in ownership and percentage in profits.
Skorupski and Marquez-Sturm had never seen the show before the competition; they’d just heard about it from Smiloff.
Starting in January, it took them a month to develop their app. “We were talking every day and Zooming,” said Skorupski.
It was pointed out that the word “Gaia” is the personification of earth.
“That’s why we chose it,” Skorupski said of their altruistic choice of connection and doing good. “Terra” was a possibility, but as it was a name for potato chips, that one was out.
“We ran the app by Mr. Smiloff a couple of times,” said Marquez-Sturm.
“It’s been very popular,” admitted Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce executive director David Kennedy of the “Shark-Tank” competition, who pointed out that Stephen King, a realtor with Realty Connect USA, is the Patchogue Young Professionals chair.
There were five Patchogue Young Professionals judges. King was among them and presented the check.
“We presented them at the high school on Feb. 23,” said King. “We gave the honor of announcing the winners first to their teacher, Jason Smiloff. “We let him know which business had won and then he coordinated the photo op two weeks after.”
King explained each contestant goes through a 10-minute in-person round at the high school during a school day, where the judges are lined up at their desks.
“The first five-minute round is the presentation of their business; the second five-minute round is answering questions from the judges,” he added.
What won them over?
“It was their ability to answer questions about their product and business model,” King said. “The app was very real-worldish and every aspect, including pricing, was well research and planned.”
King explained it’s an annual program; they’ll do one in 2022. “We go into the school and present during Career Day and conclude it with ‘Shark Tank,’” he said.
Skorupski, who works at Lady & the Tramp Dog and Cat Grooming on North Ocean Avenue in Patchogue on Saturdays and during summer breaks, is leaning towards a career in psychology. Marquez-Sturm, who just started an internship with the Long Island Advance, wants to be a journalist.
They split the check. Skorupski purchased a Polaroid camera and kept the rest; Marquez-Sturm said she’d save her cash.
The app is just an idea right now.
“They saw it as a fresh thing to be busy with,” said Smiloff. “And it got them to communicate; we’ve been so isolated this year. These two girls are first-place winners. They’re not thinking about starting a business and they beat out two dozen business education students.”