ENTREPRENEURSHIP ECOSYSTEM STORIES
Zöe Nechvatal, Noah Allen and Sam Honkomp won the grand prize in the Innovation track of the 2023 thinkBIG! Challenge with their company, Mendz, creating a new prototype for casting broken bones.
We interviewed the team to learn more about their product and their future plans in entrepreneurship.
Tell us a little about your journeys to entrepreneurship.
After multiple pages of possible ideas for an innovative product using F.H.E. technology, Mendz stood out as an idea to not only help us grow in the inner workings of business, but as a way to help others with medical debt and unimaginable pain from fractures. Nearly five months ago, what began as a flexible brace turned into a functioning theory that could one day make it into the real world. After hours of research that idea found its way to a prototype that could become an anti-itch solution to multiple doctor and consumer concerns in casting.
Who helped you get started as entrepreneurs?
Our mentor and teacher, Dena Kotz helped our idea branch out into the idea displayed at the Thinkbig final challenge. She constantly brought real world business fundamentals to our product and that allowed the Cast to grow in potential.
We also have our parents and other close relatives to thank including: Sandy Nechvatal and Matt Nechvatal (editor for the competition videos) who encouraged us to continue Mendz and push ourselves to put as much hard work as we did into the final presentation of our product.
What is Mendz and how has it developed over time? Where do you hope to see your business in the future?
As a team we really only developed Mendz within the school year, but it is possible that we will take this idea beyond our high school years. Each of us has a lifetime ahead of us and if we do decide to take Mendz further we would look into an expansion in the business’ product line and FDA approval for the Cast.
What impact do you hope to have with Mendz?
We hope to ease the burden medical debt forces on the millions it does each year while introducing a technology advanced cast. Through the FHE (flexible hybrid electronic) technology within the Cast, we also hope to limit the amount of hospital re-visits by detecting infections around the patients’ injured areas before they fully develop.
What are the biggest challenges you face as entrepreneurs and how do you overcome them?
The biggest challenges that our team had to face was quite literally everything. This was our first time trying to come up with a business from scratch. None of us had taken any previous business classes beforehand so all of us were stepping into this for the first time. From our time as a team, we faced challenges such as making a financial spreadsheet, writing many informative paragraphs, creating a prototype, and even learning how to present in front of a large audience. We spent a lot of time researching how to make our product better and improving our company as a whole. However, none of this was easy. There were days when we struggled to find an answer or the right materials we needed.
Thanks to the leader of “Mendz” our team was able to organize everything into “Notion”. This helped massively throughout the process. We were able to find any documents we’ve made through it. Some tips that we believe would help any future entrepreneurs is to make sure to organize everything you have onto a website, documents, etc. and to keep a calm mind even under stressful situations.
How did you become involved with the Veale Youth Entrepreneurship Forum (VYEF) and can you tell us a little bit about your experiences?
We were originally introduced to the forum by our business instructor Ms. Kotz as part of the curriculum and class experience. Before taking the class, none of us knew the real world of business or how to set up a business model, but with a lot of perseverance and guidance we created Mendz.
The entire experience was surreal and every time our idea advanced to the next round thoughts to polish and add to our idea began to mount on top of each other. Although there was stress to come up with ways the Cast stood out among our peers’ products, we always stood tall as a team and worked together to accomplish what we did. We always made an effort to keep our ideas organized with the aid of “Notion” and as we continued to work together, we adopted designated roles inside of the team that held it together.
When it was time to walk up to deliver our final presentation, it was a bit overwhelming, but we knew how much work was put into Mendz. Once we made it past the final four, as the innovative track winner, it was an unreal feeling that all of us will hold onto as we continue Mendz’ story.
What takeaways did you have from participating in the thinkBIG! Challenge?
The biggest shock at first was the beautiful venue as well as how many people there were, it felt intimidating to be in the room with that many people. The panelists were also very interesting, as in being able to learn about some real-life entrepreneurs and their journeys as the founders of their businesses. The biggest takeaway was of course from our presentation where we were very overwhelmed at first, but then remembered how much work was put into the project for the last couple months and pushed through.
Do you find value in using an entrepreneurial mindset in other settings besides your business?
Definitely! Throughout the competition process we learned how to build a bridge of familiarity and other necessary ways of thinking that will help us achieve smaller, everyday goals. The same ideas can be applied to us as we are all preparing for college as well as wrapping up the end of the 2022-2023 school year at Olmsted Falls High School.
What advice do you have for other students who are interested in starting a business or developing an idea?
I think all of us would say to put your heart into it. To anyone thinking about starting their own business or even pursuing the framework of an idea, follow through with it. As long as any one person has the drive to see their vision through, the world will become a field of opportunities. It will be hard at first, but in the end, you could help millions dealing with the same problem, and find a solution.
What have you learned personally from working together in Mendz? How will you use the funds that you won in the thinkBIG! Challenge?
I have always wanted to lead the world in some way, when I was little it was to be an art teacher, some years after that it was as president, and now I’ve set my heart on business. Since I was just a child, I’ve watched my parents and those around me do incredible things just by impacting those close to them. Watching and hearing their stories at every family get together, inspired me to be more; do more. Leading up to this forum, I had no idea what I would do or how to start a business plan, let alone win a competition for one. However, to me winning was not the goal, personal growth was, how well I would do in the class or if I could actually be the leader I hoped to become. Now that our idea did win, I hope to live past this experience, to help others by leading tomorrow. Because we can only truly live in the present, it’s hard to believe in the future, but I look forward to coming out of this, somehow aiding others to see the present as an opportunity, through Mendz. With the funds, I plan to save most of them for college purposes in the nearing future. – Zoë Nechvatal
I’d never thought I’d be a part of something this big. Going into a business I wasn’t sure how I would fit in to it. However, throughout the time I’ve been with this group I’ve learned many things that will be needed for the future. From design a prototype and facing deadlines I’ve learned from many great challenges we’ve had to face since September of last year. But the thing that was most important for me during this time was making great friends. I can still remember our excitement we had when they chose “Mendz” as the winning team for innovation. My family always told me I would do great in my life and I’m finally starting to make those achievements. I’m excited and intrigued to see what can become of “Mendz” after this. For me I plan to put my fund into a savings account, so I can utilize it for my college experiences. – Noah Allen
On the first day of school, when I was first introduced to the class, I didn’t see many familiar faces, but that soon changed when we all got to know each other a little better. When I began working together with them, I soon realized how well all got along, as well as complemented each others’ strengths and weaknesses. When we first came up with the idea, I never expected it to become such a big part of my life and for it to get us so far. Deadlines for competitions always seemed so far away, but once they were a week from happening, it always felt like we never had enough time, but I’m very thankful for everything that has happened and won’t ever forget it. I’m going to save my money and then eventually buy a car with it later on once I get my license. – Sam Honkomp
How can people find out more about Mendz?
You can find more about Mendz from our webpage here: Mendz