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NEWS | June 2, 2021

NSWC Crane STEM Program interns prepare to compete in state pitch competition

By Sarah K. Miller, NSWC Crane Corporate Communications

Two Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Program interns are competing in a statewide pitch competition in Indianapolis on June 19.

Andrew Blessinger and Lauren Mitchell, both seniors at from Edgewood High School, were spring semester interns in NSWC Crane’s STEM Program located at WestGate Academy. Blessinger and Mitchell are pitching their business concept, called Boost Box, to help students with mental health. They worked on Boost Box as STEM Program Interns throughout the semester.

“I think it’s awesome,” says Blessinger. “We didn’t expect to go this far. At the beginning of the process, we were coming up with business ideas and we knew mental health is really important. Lauren was receiving this makeup subscription box so we thought we could have the customer take a survey and we’d make a specific box for each customer.”

With Boost Box, Customers would receive curated monthly packages in the mail.

“The box would have four to five products,” says Mitchell. “Each month, one or two products would be the same for every customer, and the remainder would be customized for each customer. The survey would ask customers what they liked, like sports or music, and the box would include specific things based on personal interest.”

The students’ goal is to create something that is bigger than a product itself.

“Another aspect of it is the social media community so people can talk to each other,” says Blessinger. “We also want to curate content from mental health professionals for the community.”

Mitchell adds to the importance of creating a community.

“We didn’t want to price to be a barrier to entry,” she says. “We want to use social media to break the stigma behind mental health and leverage existing platforms.”

The Innovate WithIN statewide pitch competition is an annual event that allows high school students to compete, as well as develop, their startup or business idea. The competition is divided into regions across Indiana. Students pitch their ideas for a chance to receive $25,000 as well as collaborate with professionals to help turn their ideas into a reality. 

In phase two this year, ten teams were selected in each of Indiana’s nine regions and delivered a five-minute pitch video to a panel of judges. Those winners compete as state finalists will pitch their businesses to a panel of government officials, venture capitalists, and local entrepreneurs.

This is the first time the STEM Program has hosted student interns during the school semester, adding to their typical summer internship offerings. Tina Closser, the NSWC Crane STEM Coordinator, says both Blessinger and Mitchell worked on STEM projects throughout the semester.

“We wanted the interns to find something they were passionate about rather than have a project assigned to them,” says Closser. “We shared the regional pitch competition and Lauren and Andrew wanted to pursue it.”

Closser says it was important to provide the student team with learning opportunities.

“We were there to support them and connect them with different people, like ecosystem partners at NSTXL, other local entrepreneurs, Annie Bullock with NSWC Crane’s T2 program, and NSWC Crane employee and small business owner Steve Corbin. We gave them the time and space to work on it. To me, it’s important…finding their path in life, what lights their fire, and makes them happy. If we can be part of that, that’s great. The skills that they are learning through this program are applicable to their future careers…getting in front of people and pitching their idea, finding problems to solve, and creating solutions.”

Both Blessinger and Mitchel were thankful for the experience and lessons learned from the overall internship.

“For me, it’s really exciting,” says Mitchell. “This is a problem I’m passionate about. The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone including the attitudes of fellow students. I found out I was passionate about entrepreneurship through the Innovate WithIN program. It was a great opportunity to be creative and have independence.”

“This was a really neat experience,” says Blessinger. “To get out of the classroom, work on a project, help people in the future, and solve real-world problems…it’s great.”

About NSWC Crane

NSWC Crane is a naval laboratory and a field activity of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) with mission areas in Expeditionary Warfare, Strategic Missions and Electronic Warfare. The warfare center is responsible for multi-domain, multi- spectral, full life cycle support of technologies and systems enhancing capability to today's Warfighter.

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