Bronx Science students get down to business, win first place

How old is that burger? Three teens want to figure that out with their latest concept, MeatMate

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There are a number of ways teenagers earn money, ranging from babysitting to tutoring. But what if they could sell their business ideas for more than $2,000? 

Dvir Avnon-Klein, with the help of teammates Seungwon Hyun and James Snyder, did just that at this year’s Junior Achievement Business Plan Competition at the Junior Achievement of New York office on Lexington Avenue. Out of 180 teams making up 700 students from schools all over New York City, the Bronx Science team of three came out on top at the 11th annual competition, walking away with a trophy and $2,500 each.

It was Avnon-Klein’s business plan to create a biosensor that could detect contaminants in meat that blew the judges away. The product, which his team called MeatMate was designed to look for harmful and even deadly substances like E. coli, listera and salmonella, among others. 

“I was actually eating a burger one day and I couldn’t tell if it was old or good to eat,” Avnon-Klein said. “And I felt that if I could know for certain, I could relax the fear I had and not have to worry if I would have a stomachache the next day. That would alleviate the burden, and I thought that maybe there’s something to be made here that would really help people with their food poisoning.”

And so Avnon-Klein went forth and developed his product by mapping out his idea, trying his hand at entrepreneurship through the Junior Achievement business competition. For this competition, only business plans are required, so at least for now, there is no MeatMate prototype.

Although he has a passion for music and civic service, the competition taught Avnon-Klein new skills as well like public speaking and marketing.

“Playing in hour-long recitals as a violinist, you have to be precise especially with your fingers, and it can be a very stressful experience,” Avnon-Klein said. 

“But it prepared me a lot for standing before six business sharks. It taught me to be able to deliver with precision.”

The “sharks” that judged Avnon-Klein and his teammates in the final round included the city’s small business commissioner Gregg Bishop, publishing company ZinePak co-founder Kim Kaupe, and Scott Jordan, managing director of New York sales for Delta Air Lines.

“The judges treated us as colleagues,” Avnon-Klein said. “Not as children, but as real people who were coming to them with real ideas.”

Students who participate in the competition work in a four month-long entrepreneurship boot camp training. There they work on their research and write their business plans. The New York chapter of Junior Achievement is a nonprofit organization that teaches students about business and guides them to approach ideas that help fix real issues on both a business and social level.

“We think it’s very important for young people to really get exposure and to make the connection between school and work,” said Joseph Peri, president of Junior Achievement in New York. “Creatively we want them to think about the way they solve the problem so it sells.”

However, winning the Junior Achievement competition just seems to be the Bronx Science way — Bronx Science has won first place three times before.

The program has been around for more than a decade, and this year’s theme was focused on the “Next Big Thing.” In Klein’s MeatMate business plan, the biosensor would be used to measure the level of electromagnetic radiation in meat as well detect other issues. The biosensor would collect data either by touching the meat directly or through its packaging in a grocery story using a scanner. 

Avnon-Klein did not have a strong understanding of marketing before the competition, yet he was willing to put in the time and research to develop his idea with no fear of the new subject. Avnon-Klein is a graduating senior at Bronx Science and intends to study neuroscience in college. He’s now even considering working in some entrepreneurship into his studies. 

Don’t look for MeatMate at your nearest store — the device, unfortunately, is not an actual product. But it doesn’t mean it can’t be. 

“It’s all conceptual now,” Avnon-Klein said, “but we might take it to the next level.”

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