By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Two DECA students from Bowling Green poured in on, and scored a second place finish at the International Career Development Conference in April with a pitch for a product to address Lake Erie’s algae problems.
Sean O’Donnell and Jake Stucker, both Bowling Green High School juniors, placed second in the entrepreneurship idea contest at the DECA conference held in Atlanta with their idea for a filter that would address the runoff from farm fields that’s polluting Lake Erie. They were the top U.S. team with first place going to students from Ontario.
And the pair says they’re not stopping there. “This is a huge market and could provide a future for us and families, and better future for people around the world,” O’Donnell said.
They see the technology they are working on as being the foundation for a business.
For that reason, they asked for a certain amount of discretion when describing the details of their idea. The have applied for provisional patents. Simply put, it is a filtration system that goes on the end of the piping from field tiles that removes the nitrates, phosphorus, and sediment that run into the Lake.
That runoff messes with the lake’s ecosystem and can cause the kind of toxic algae growth that turned off the tap for much of the region during the Toledo water crisis in 2014.
O’Donnell and Stucker have known each other since middle school. It was in seventh grade that they learned about the problem facing Lake Erie. But it was more recently when Stucker was having a conversation with a friend that the idea started to hatch. His friend, from Colorado, said she was headed west over winter break to go skiing. He lamented they had nothing so exciting here in Ohio.
When she brought up Lake Erie, he said, it was too cold part of the year and toxic in the summer.
This got him thinking about what could be done. This became the topic for his and O’Donnell’s DECA project. Trident Filters was born.
Both are students in Penta Career Center’s satellite marketing program offered at Bowling Green High School.
Their teacher Cara Maxey said the partners launched into the project with rare commitment. “They worked extremely hard on their own networking,” she said. “They put in the extra time and effort outside the classroom that made the difference.”
What they came up was “a real product,” with real world benefits. Usually students come up with “want-based products,” often related to fashion and cosmetics.
The Trident Filter “is something the world needs,” Stucker said.
“We were pretty stoked to do as well as we did,” O’Donnell said. “Right from the beginning, we wanted to take this as far as we could. We put in countless hours.”
He stayed at Stucker’s house for 10 days before the district competition so they could work long into the night.
And their classmates took note. Stucker said they even made t-shirts, hats, business cards, and pins.
Both are competitive by nature. Stucker runs track and cross-country, and O’Donnell has played varsity soccer for three years and is a member of Columbus Crew Academy team.
DECA provided an outlet for that competitive spirit, Stucker said. “You can just go hard into it.”
Maxey had high expectations from the time she learned about the project. She would have disappointed if the project hadn’t placed at states.
As it was this is the first time in her 14 years as a marketing teacher, in BG and in the Toledo Public Schools, that she had students place in the international Conference.
Their success was built on a web of community connections.
Both partners have mothers who work in academia. Stucker is the son of Alan and Jenn Stucker, who chairs the Graphic Design Department at Bowling Green State University. O’Donnell is the son of Ed and Amy O’Donnell, who teaches career development at the University of Toledo.
They drew on expertise at both universities.
Among their contacts were Bob Midden at BGSU who helped them with the chemistry and Kirk Kern, director of the Paul J. Hooker Center for Entrepreneurship, who critiqued their efforts.
“He really grilled us on our presentation and idea,” O’Donnell said.
“We learned a lot from the criticism,” Stucker added.
When they needed a 3D prototype of the filter, Alex Mejiritski, the father of a classmate, came through.
They’ve also consulted with people in the agricultural community both on the work they’ve done and with an eye toward testing the product.
That paid off when they went to Atlanta and faced two rounds of judging. The judge in the final round had the toughest questions, quizzing them about the chemistry behind their idea. But they were prepared.
Stucker and O’Donnell were two of the seven BG DECA students who qualified for the International competition. The others were:
- Trisha Stichler, a senior who placed in the top 10 at the International in Automotive Services Marketing, having placed second at the state.
- Makai Ruffin, a senior, who placed first in the state in Human Resource Management earning a second trip to the International Conference.
- Alyssa Lang and Kloe Atwood, seniors, who placed second in the state in Public Relations Campaign
- Ayla Arrington, who placed fourth place in Business Finance at the state, earning a spot at the International Conference for a second year.
Stucker and O’Donnell are planning to take Trident Filters to the next stage, and compete with it next year. And they plan to stick with it beyond that.
Stucker is applying for service academies and BGSU. O’Donnell is also planning on attending BGSU’s College of Business. “I think the entrepreneurship aspect is a bit more applicable going into the future.”