Winners of the Sustainable Solutions Summit business pitch competition celebrate after judges announced the awards July 14. From left: Robbie Henning, Kenyon Suggs, Fimiyo Bejide (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

Janelle Suggs waited until Sunday night to tell her son Kenyon that she had signed him up for the Sustainable Solutions Summit, which started the next morning. She wasn’t sure how he would feel about spending the following week working on a business plan with other DMV high school students—rather than at a much-anticipated tennis camp. 

“He was really upset that he was going to miss tennis,” Suggs said. “And then when I picked him up from the first day of the summit, he was really thrilled—and he has been really engaged all week, coming home and doing assignments on his own.” 

Rising 10th grader Kenyon, along with teammates Robbie Henning and Fimiyo Bejide, spent July 10 through 14 at the Sustainable Solutions Summit, crafting their business pitch for a solar-powered battery designed to sit on the roof of an electric vehicle. Their presentation to a panel of three expert judges—complete with a tiny prototype on a toy car—earned them first place in a competition against three other teams, each of which pitched a business idea to address an assigned environmental issue. 

Recent high school graduates Kiki Bejide (right) and Ona Olisa, alongside three other teammates, pitch an app that would incentivize public transit use. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

“It’s a competitive world,” said Leroy Nesbitt, executive director of the Black Student Fund, which co-hosted the event with Forbright Bank. “I like to give kids safe competition, where they can learn to compete in a healthy way.”

The winning team’s members walked away with $500 each in scholarship money. The runners-up, five students who pitched an app designed to offer personalized suggestions and incentives to use public transit, received $250 each. 

Other teams’ final ideas included a food waste pickup service selling usable compost back to landscaping companies and a company selling water filtered to remove PFAS chemicals and bottled in recyclable aluminum. The judges were DC Public Service Commissioner Ted Trabue; Samantha Norquist, Forbright Bank’s chief sustainability officer; and Wendy Howard, environmental nonprofit One Montgomery Green’s executive director,. 

During a 20-minute deliberation session, the panel had some trouble choosing a winner; the vote wasn’t unanimous on either first or second place. 

“All of the presentations were really outstanding,” Trabue said, addressing all the students after the winners were announced. “This was a lot of information pulled together in a very limited amount of time.”

Leading up to the final pitch day, 15 student competitors spent five days at the Marriott hotel in Chevy Chase, learning from experts in one of three subject areas: clean water, sustainable transportation or waste diversion. Led by event organizers from Forbright, the Black Student Fund and One Montgomery Green, they researched their assigned topic, brainstormed ideas, workshopped their business models and finally practiced their pitches. 

Many proud parents came to watch the final pitch presentations at Marriott’s Courtyard Bethesda Chevy Chase hotel. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

The teams also worked with two mentors, interns from Forbright Bank, to hone the business side of their concepts. 

“I don’t really know what I want to do in life, but I know that I want to do something maybe in business,” Bejide, one of the students on the solar battery team, said. “I want to figure out a way I can help my community and the environment by learning business skills.”

Kayla Benjamin covers climate change & environmental justice for the Informer as a full-time reporter through the Report for America program. Prior to her time here, she worked at Washingtonian Magazine...

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