CONCORD -- Following in the footsteps of Steve Jobs, students at Mt. Diablo High School are thinking up new products that could captivate consumers while making the world a better place.
They have formed mock companies, with students taking on the roles of chief executive officers, chief technical officers, chief financial officers and marketing directors. Mentors from local businesses act as their boards of directors, providing feedback about product concepts and development.
"We were looking for issues right now in the world," said Janet Sanchez, 16, of Concord, acting as the chief technical officer for a student company called Dialens, which is developing a contact lens that could test glucose levels for diabetics as an alternative to the finger-prick method.
The students are seniors in the school's Digital Safari multimedia academy, which requires them to complete a semester-long "GreenBizz" project. They take products from development to launch, which occurs at an Innovation Fair in January. There, the students will try to attract funding from mock venture capitalists played by community leaders such as Concord's mayor.
Organizers modeled the project after the process Silicon Valley companies use to launch cutting-edge products, said Mark Westwind, a business consultant and GreenBizz program co-founder.
"They're learning the real capitalistic system," he said during a recent visit to the Concord school. "It's giving them really valuable life skills and potential career skills. Our goal is to make innovation as cool as music and as exciting as sports."
Although many teens dream of becoming professional musicians or athletes, few are likely to achieve success in these highly competitive fields, Westwind said. However, he added, every student can be an innovator.
After 11 years of fine-tuning the program, Westwind is enthusiastic about letting the world know about what he considers a hidden educational gem. He has approached the city of Oakland and some East Bay schools to expand it to other campuses, so far without success.
"Our goal is to have a Bay Area-wide Innovation Fair," he said. "We'd love to have a number of schools compete with us."
Westwind and other business mentors met with students last week to discuss projects that included a steering wheel cover that could measure drugs and alcohol in a driver's body; biodegradable batteries; a satellite-based medical information bracelet; and a system that could stimulate muscles to speed up rehabilitation after injuries. The latter could help people return to work sooner and spend less time collecting workers' compensation.
"This is a potentially winning product," Westwind told the student company that developed the "Safe Start" steering wheel cover, which would detect drugs or alcohol through the driver's skin, as opposed to currently available Breathalyzers. "Now, that's innovation!"
Students use what they learn in economics, English and multimedia classes to create business plans and marketing brochures. They research their ideas to make sure they aren't too far-fetched and prepare "elevator pitches" to sell their products to would-be investors.
"It gets you ready for the real world," said Jenny Zelaya, 18, of Concord.
The group developing biodegradable batteries reasoned that electricity could be created through enzymes, building on experiments in which electrical currents pass through potatoes.
"Oh, my God," Westwind said with a smile. "You're going to be the Steve Jobs of the potato industry!"
More information about the Mt. Diablo High School's GreenBizz program, Innovation Fair and Digital Safari multimedia academy is available by calling 925-372-8486 or by going to www.digitalsafari.org.
For additional details, read the On Assignment blog at IBAbuzz.com/onassignment.