Team TCPF celebrates their win for their product, The Cell Tagger, during Competition Day event for S.Y.STEM Coalition's 2017 Junior Shark Tank program at Pima College downtown campus in Tucson, AZ. on Friday, June 30, 2017. The Tagger is a dash cam that detects cell phone usage by the driver. The teens, who have been working in five teams with mentors throughout the summer, pitched their ideas - designed to benefit the Tucson community - to a panel of STEM experts, business leaders and government officials. The program is sponsored by Startup Tucson, Raytheon, PIma County JTED and others. 

Max Adang, Luke Kim, Brent Lee and Manuel Mendoza will be high school juniors in the upcoming school year, which means they'll be driving soon.

But distracted drivers make the roads dangerous, they say.

That was the inspiration behind a product they pitched to a room of over 100 people at the first ever Junior Shark Tank event held by S.Y.STEM Coalition, an Arizona based non-profit that connects K-12 students with the STEM industry, Friday evening.

"The Cell Tagger", a dash cam with detection software that notifies truck drivers' employers when a cell phone is being used while on the road landed the boys first place in the competition. They were awarded a $5,000 scholarship to split between them.

The Junior Shark Tank program is an intensive four week course that teaches high school students the basics of engineering and entrepreneurship through hands-on market research, design, building, testing, marketing and selling of their very own product, said Lucas Miller, director of the program.

There were 21 students making up the five teams competing in the program.

Each team had to come up with an idea that would benefit the community, research how they could make it happen, design and build a prototype and present it to a team of sharks or judges, which consisted of local STEM experts, business leaders and government officials, for the chance to win scholarship money. 

What they do with the product going forward is up to them, but Miller hopes they will develop their products and "see where it goes."


Judges watch intently. They are l-r; Greg White, VP of Finance and CFO at Raytheon; Dustin Williams, Pima County Superintendent of Schools; Tamara Nicolosi, Director of Central Campuses for Pima County JTED, Sean Payne, Lead Police Office, Officer of the Year and Justin Williams, Founder and CEO of Startup Tucson.

"The fact that these kids only had a month to produce their entire product is absolutely amazing," said Dustin Williams, Pima County Schools superintendent and one of the judges. "Actual days they had of working days was 18 days to manufacture an entire business plan and put everything together. You can't even have adults put that together in that amount of time and so to see our young leaders do something extraordinary like this..that's what's so incredible about this program. I hope to see this last and continue for many years because this is what inspires kids to do great things, really... It's incredible."

The evening started with remarks from Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, but not before the audience sang to him for his birthday. 

"A lot of jobs going in the future are gonna be in science, technology, engineering and math and it's difficult to get people to that educational level we want them to get to, but one of the best ways to do that is get hands on work and that's what this program does," Mayor Rothschild said. "These are real world projects. They're things we need today, whether it's a waste management issue, firefighter safety, lab work, heat concerns in vehicles and texting and driving."

As part of the competition, each team gave a "milestone presentation" in which they talked about the thinking behind their product, their research findings, market analysis, constraints and money issues. Judges then had the opportunity to ask questions about each product. 

"I'm pretty sure you all drove here and maybe saw someone driving erratically or were stopped too long at a stop light," said Manuel Mendoza on stage with his team. "Maybe they were on their cell phone...We can all agree this is dangerous and must be stopped. Distracted driving is a big problem with 25 percent of accidents because of it."

The team decided if there was one area they could help prevent phone usage while driving, it would be in the transportation truck industry.

The difference between their product and dash cams currently on the market is it would help prevent an accident before it happened rather than just provide proof of who's at fault an accident after the fact, the team told the judges.


Brent Lee, of Team TCPF, explains The Cell Tagger, a dash cam that uses detection software that notifies businesses when their truck drivers use cellphones on the road.


Second place was awarded to Team C.S.E. Lab Sterilizers, made up by Sophia Garcia, Cai Marsh and Flor Montreal. The trio, who will split the $2,500 scholarship award, pitched their  product by asking the audience to close their eyes and imagine they're in a third world country waiting for surgery. The audience was told that due to equipment that wasn't sterile, they would die.

Their product, a high pressure sterilizer, is less expensive and more time efficient than ones currently on the market, the team said. 


Members of C.S.E. Sterilizers team react as they are named as third place finishers and receive a $2500.00 prize during Competition Day event for S.Y.STEM Coalition's 2017 Junior Shark Tank program at Pima College downtown campus in Tucson, AZ. on Friday, June 30, 2017. They developed a more affordable sterilizer made from cheaper more common materials for schools with smaller budgets. 

Another $2,500 scholarship award was presented to a team of four that designed a band to monitor firefighters' heart rates in an effort to reduce cardiac arrest during and after a fire. The team - made up by Isabella Fox, Noe Carrasco, Alexa Flores and Adriel Mendoza - was honored for perseverance. 

"We stuck through the problems we came across and we survived," said Isabella Fox, 15. "Engineering is something I really want to do in my career. After doing this I want to do it even more."


Team Firefighter Safety demonstrated the concept for a F.F.S.B. Wrist Band that could monitor firefighter heart rates and relay information to Fire Chiefs and physicians for their safety.

Finally, first place was announced.

The four boys that make up Team TPCF literally ran to the stage, hollering with excitement to accept their scholarship award of $5,000. 

"I feel great," said Brent Lee, 16. "It's great to feel that all that work and dedication paid off and how we can make an impact on society."

Click here for more information on Junior Shark Tank and S.Y.STEM Coalition.

Angela Pittenger | This Is Tucson