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Teens pitch invention to tech leaders in Silicon Valley

On the surface it doesn’t look like much, but a prototype device held together by duct tape and anchored with plastic bottles could solve a problem that’s been plaguing an Indianapolis community for decades.

The device earned a group of teenagers from the Best Buy Teen Tech Center® powered by Klipsch at the Martin Luther King Community Center in Indianapolis a trip to Silicon Valley. They designed the prototype filtration device to filter water at Belmont Beach. The beach is polluted with sewer and storm runoff water and for years was a dumping ground for industrial chemicals and slaughterhouse waste.  

During segregation, the beach, nestled along the White River, was the only place where Black residents could swim.

The teens knew about the beach’s complicated history and wanted to learn more. Their research led them to build the filtration device, and they also shot and edited a documentary using tools and equipment at the Teen Tech Center.

The prototype floats on the surface of the water, filters, and provides data to a website where residents can get updates on what pollutants are in the river.

Future Fest

The protype earned the teens a spot at FutureFest, an annual summer event held in Silicon Valley and hosted by Project Invent.

The event brings together young people from across the country who have fresh new ideas to solve social problems — and gives them a platform to share their ideas.

R’Quiya Ruffin, the Career Pathways facilitator at the Teen Tech Center, introduced the kids to the idea of Belmont Beach and supported them at Future Fest. She called the experience “surreal.”

“They are a group of very unique and outspoken individuals,” she said. “They were really confident and made me feel like a proud mom.”

While they were in Silicon Valley, the teens toured Google and Adobe and walked away inspired.

“They really enjoyed themselves and networked with people they saw potential connections with,” R’Quiya said. “The exposure that they were able to get from this experience is major.”

Michael Catterlin, deputy director of Project Invent says Future Fest is more than just about the inventions, it’s about the journey it took to create them.

“For us, it’s really more of an emphasis on the learning journey and theory of change than it is the fanciest kind of prototype,” he said.

What’s next

There’s a push to make Belmont Beach a public gathering space and eventually a permanent park.

That’s why the teens’ prototype is so crucial.

The youth plan to continue developing their prototype with the tools they learned from Project Invent. There are three teens returning to the Teen Tech Center to further the project.

R’Quiya says they hope to improve the functionality of the filtration system by finding sustainable materials, creating a docking station so the device can sit in the river and improving the features that are supposed to detect what is being collected in the device. The teens also plan to share their documentary about Belmont Beach as a way to educate others about its history.

About Career Pathways

Through the yearlong Career Pathways program, a Best Buy Foundation™ initiative, teens explore careers in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). In addition, they learn skills in areas such as communications, financial management and navigating workplace culture. The program leads to a paid internship with a local employer.

About Teen Tech Centers

Best Buy Teen Tech Centers™, a program of the Best Buy Foundation™, provide safe, after-school spaces where teens can get hands-on experience with the latest technology. Adult mentors and volunteers provide the support for youth to create, innovate and explore. Teens can explore their passions with access to cutting-edge technology including tools for film production, augmented and virtual reality, digital media, 3-D design, audio engineering, and so much more. Teens also have access to career training programs, internships, job opportunities, and scholarships for post-secondary education. 

For more information about the Best Buy Teen Tech Center program, visit here.