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Facing History students face sharks (photo gallery)

Some Facing History New Tech ninth-graders learned a critical lesson this week: To become a successful entrepreneur, you sometimes have to swim with the sharks.

Students went before seven judges from the community on Wednesday, pitching prototypes in the high school’s twist on the hit television program “Shark Tank.”

The exercise was part of a course that combines history with graphic design. In this instance, the hybrid crossed content about America’s Industrial Revolution and use of skills on a 3-D printer.

“It tries to mirror as best we can what a business would go through,” said history teacher Doug Ramage, who teams up in the classroom with graphic design teacher Jason Labovitz. “It’s not perfect, but the kids get something out of it.”

Besides history and design lessons, the students gained presentation and other business experience. Just as seen on TV, they marched in solemnly to the ominous “Shark Tank” theme and went to work.

Products consisted of jewelry, accessories and small household items. Students had to identify their markets, calculate production costs and set retail prices.

Huntington Bank, partnering with the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corp., and the judges supplied seed money for winning products, which could be sold at the school or beyond. Proceeds will go to Facing History New Tech, a project-based school that promotes social justice, peace and diversity.

Jazmine and Zulmarie designed the Handy Bandy, a bracket-shaped “multipurpose headphone holder and winder" that they would make for slightly more than $3 and proposed selling for $4. Their inspiration was love of music and frustration with knotted earbud wires.

Sharks suggested making the slightly bulky holder thinner and adding a belt clip that would appeal to consumers older than the target demographic – people in their teens and early 20s.

Though Ramage said students were jittery the previous day, Jazmine and Zulmarie dismissed any such notion.

“I love presenting in front of people,” said Zulmarie, who is considering owning her own business someday or becoming a lawyer.

“I was confident,” said Jazmine, who plans to work as a cosmetologist. “I’m a pretty confident person.”

Arianna had a quick response when asked where her team planned to market its $4 Cord Keeper, a block-shaped protective sleeve designed to protect iPhone and iPad chargers from breaking.

“I’d like to start with something small,” she said. “A convenience store or CVS, just to see how it does.”

During each presentation, one of the judges, former City Councilman Jay Westbrook, jotted down reactions such as “useful and catchy” or “too expensive.” Overall, he said, sales approaches were bold and well thought out.

Fellow shark Mike Caparanis, co-owner of the JAC Creative graphic-design company, said he was impressed by “young kids doing some creative things and their unique takes on the products.”

The competition began with 28 four-member teams, but nine were eliminated beforehand and given alternative assignments because they missed due dates or drifted apart. The surviving teams selected one, two or three of their members to make the pitch.

In contrast to the TV Sharks yea-or-nay decisions, the Facing History judges scored products and presentations and named the three top finishers as winners. A phone stand and speaker amplifier was ranked first, a candleholder with openings shaped like the downtown Cleveland skyline came in second and the Cord Keeper was third.

Huntington Bank, which markets the bank as a lending source for small businesses, viewed the project as an investment in future business and home owners, said Community Development Relations Manager Roshonda Smith, who observed the day’s activities.

“It furthers our mission of financial literacy and entrepreneurship, coupled with education,” she said.