“Aden is always taking things apart. For him, it’s just play,” says Lu Ann Shank of her son Aden’s penchant for inventing.

But neither she nor Aden, who will be a Woodrow Wilson High School junior this fall, ever expected this “play” to pay off the way it has. Aidan’s invention of a T-shirt launcher-type instrument has landed him a plane ticket to New York and a chance to win $10,000 at the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge in October.

What began as an assignment in his Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) class at school has turned out to be potentially life-changing. Aidan’s inspirational teacher, Tom Crabb, charged each student with creating a business plan, and Aden took it a step further by creating a business plan for his original invention. Aden initially invented what he calls his “cheer launcher” when he heard that his former teacher, the cheerleading sponsor, desperately needed something that could launch the squad’s spirit shells, which are candy-filled toilet paper tubes.

He initially tried using PVC and hot glue; it didn’t work, but it got him thinking. The final prototype is a toy that has the ability to propel. It’s a cross bow and a slingshot made from PVC, and it can send the cheerleaders’ spirit shells flying.

Armed with his trusty launcher and a PowerPoint business plan, Aden made it through round after round of judges in the citywide and regional NFTE competitions. These wins earned him $1,000 and two weeks of entrepreneur camp this summer at the University of Texas-Dallas.

Aden Shank is a National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge finalist. Photo by BENJAMIN HAGER

“I’ve learned how school subjects connect to the real world … like how English is good for public speaking, and math can help you run a business,” Aden says.

But the big prize may be only a few months away. If he wins, Aden plans to put the money toward his patent and trademark. Eventually he wants to sell the cheer launchers to squads all over, each launcher uniquely painted in school colors.

“I want to learn machining and molding … and get access to more materials and tools,” Aden says. “I want to make more stuff and be an inventor.”

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