Young people are full of passion and full of ideas, but they may not know “how to take an idea and turn it into a product or service,” said Tara Smith, chief operating officer of CFES Brilliant Pathways.

That’s what makes the Vermont Pitch Challenge such a promising program. Sponsored by CFES and the University of Vermont, the “Shark-Tank”-based challenge encourages high school students to spin their passion into profit, be it monetary or for the benefit of their communities.

At the Essex-based CFES-Brilliant Pathways center in late January, three teams of students from Crown Point Central and Northern Adirondack Central schools, with the help of adult mentors, honed their ideas, which will be submitted this week to UVM for judging. They will face competition from other students from around the country and beyond, with the winners receiving scholarships and cash prizes.

“Through the Vermont Pitch Challenge, CFES exposes students to new careers and disciplines that they might not have been aware of, and connects them with people who know how to nurture creativity,” said Rick Dalton, President and CEO of CFES. “Many of these students have the potential to take an innovative concept and turn it into a solid business — they just need to be shown how to let their ideas flourish.”

CFES helps students prepare their projects with College and Career Readiness advisors and workshops where students receive advice from people with experience in the entrepreneurship field, ranging from aviation to green energy.

Smith said the projects from Crown Point included a community dog and wellness park and a youth center for students who have nowhere to go after school closes. The team from Northern Adirondack Central is presenting an idea to distill harmful phosphorus from Lake Champlain and repurpose it as fertilizer.

“They are passionate about these ideas, and that’s critical to being an entrepreneur,” Smith said.

Surveys show that a growing number of high school students are interested in running their own businesses after completing their education. 

CFES is also assisting students planning to enter the Vermont Pitch Challenge by helping make their projects more viable, showing them how to write a business plan and offering tips for presentation and dressing for success. Everyone who enters will gain valuable experience whether they win or not, Smith said.

This is the initial year for the Vermont Pitch Challenge, and Smith said she expects it to grow as students become familiar with it and see other students’ ideas for the betterment of society and themselves.