BLOOMINGTON — An Illinois State University elementary education student's idea for providing teachers with objects to use in teaching history, science and culture took top honors Friday at the Startup Showcase, sponsored by ISU's Means Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

Andrew Frey, a senior from Huntley, came up with his idea for his First Hand Museum as a student teacher in the Golden Apple Scholars program in the Chicago Public Schools system.

He had students who weren't interested in learning social studies and other subjects in traditional ways. But when he brought in a dinosaur-era fish fossil or other objects students could see and touch, it got them excited about learning.

"Instead of bring students to a museum, you bring the museum to the students," he said.

Others finalists in the competition for ISU students starting their own businesses included Prisma Systems, which uses automation to assist companies with product presentation on websites; My Arena, a motivational lifestyle apparel company; and Neighbor, a website that helps match people with workers for such tasks as yard work, food delivery and odd jobs.

As winner of the competition, Frey will receive $5,000 in financial and in-kind support from the Means Center. The second- through fourth-place finalists will receive $1,500 to $3,000 in assistance.

Frey intends to use that support to increase the number of artifacts he has to lend and refine loan agreements and insurance coverage.

All the artifacts in his collection are originals, not reproductions. They include a uniform jacket from a World War II soldier who served in the Battle of the Bulge and a sign designating a whites-only drinking fountain.

Frey said the Startup Showcase was important for more than the money.

Getting to meet other young entrepreneurs, “you can see their passion,” he said. “That's the beauty of this. We do this because we love it.”

Joanna Davis, a senior in marketing from Chicago, won the People's Choice award with her business, Designs by Anna J, using West African fabrics to make urban-style clothing.

Davis said she taught herself to sew from YouTube videos and learned a lot during the competition about how to build her business.

Her mother, Caroline Davis, in town for ISU family weekend, said, “She has been a go-getter since grade school.”

There were a lot of young go-getters at the showcase.

In addition to the ISU students behind the 18 businesses in the competition, students from several Heartland Community College courses and high school students involved in McLean County Unit 5's Innovative Entrepreneurs and a statewide group, Celebrating High School Innovators, also were present.

Mark Hoelscher, director of the Means Center, said, “We had a stronger slate of contestants than we've ever had.” The students came from across campus, not just the College of Business.

Shows such as “Shark Tank” and specific entrepreneurial programs have sparked students' interest in starting their own businesses.

The center provides help in developing business plans and feedback on ideas.

“We don't just crown winners. We develop kids,” said Hoelscher. “It's so much more than a competition.”

At the start of the day, each participant gave a three-minute presentation, with no questions asked.

The four finalists each gave five-minute presentations and fielded questions from the judges for 10 minutes.

Zainab Bakare, a senior in arts technology from Sauk Village, said she was a bit nervous making her presentation about her business, ZABA Animation Studios, but she learned a lot through the process.

“This is what being an artist is about: being an entrepreneur; taking risks,” she said.

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter @Pg_Sobota

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