A majority of the business plans in the Maverick Challenge are hypothetical.

But Brownstown Central High School junior Clinton Singer, 17, took his project a step further.

He wants to obtain a patent for Auto-Drop, a 12-volt electrical system with a switch mounted above a semitrailer’s landing gear that moves the legs up and down, rather than having to hand-crank them.

On Jan. 22, he received $2,300 to help make that happen after being selected the Jackson County winner of the high school business planning competition.

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“I’d like to go ahead and pursue it … that way, nothing can happen to it if I’m not working on it while I’m in college or something like that,” Singer said.

The top-10 business plans recently were presented to a three-panel judge at the Community Foundation of Jackson County.

“I didn’t figure people would understand what (Auto-Drop) was because not too many people are familiar with the trucking industry,” he said. “I feel like (the judges) definitely understood where I was coming from, what the product was. I felt really confident on how I explained everything, and I feel like they took it in well.”

Singer moves on to the regional competition March 7 at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce. He will be joined by the county’s second-place team of Karen Dringenburg and Savannah Smith — Seymour High School seniors whose presentation was Dringenburg Farms specializing in hop production — along with winners of other southern Indiana competitions.

The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce started the Maverick Challenge in 2008. High school students from Bartholomew, Brown, Dearborn, Decatur, Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Jennings, Ohio, Ripley, Scott and Switzerland counties are invited to participate.

Students can participate individually or as a team of no more than three people. A kickoff event is conducted in each county early in the school year, and students later pitch their ideas. Written business plans are submitted, and then it is is narrowed down to finalists who give oral presentations.

In Jackson County’s fourth year participating, 28 business plans were submitted from Brownstown Central, Seymour and Trinity Lutheran high schools. Ten of those were selected for the Jan. 22 oral presentations.

Judges Kathy Covert, Brett Bevers and Doug Prather had $5,000 to split between the top-10 finishers. Dringenburg and Smith received $1,550, while there was a tie for third place with each receiving $300, and the remaining finalists received $150 or $50.

Singer said when he learned about the Maverick Challenge in Robin Perry’s entrepreneurship class in the fall, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He thought back to the summer when he was working at his father’s business, Singer & Sons Transport and S&S Machinery Repair near the Jackson-Lawrence county line.

One of his tasks was washing and cleaning semitrailers, and he also had to crank the trailer’s legs down — which takes about 15 minutes and requires enough space for a person to pull out the bar and turn the crank.

“I was out there one day, and it was raining, and I was just so mad that I had to take so long (to crank) and get all nasty,” he said. “Whenever it’s hot outside and you sweat and the rain, it just doesn’t work for me. I was like, ‘I’m going to make this better.’”

Singer was surprised to learn no one had thought of a product similar to Auto-Drop, so that became his Maverick Challenge project.

Perry said she was happy to see one of her students win again. Last year, a three-member team from Brownstown won the county and regional competitions.

She said she is excited about Singer trying to get his product patented, which requires working with a patent office and obtaining a lawyer.

“It’s expensive, but that’s one of the good things about this program — not only do they encourage the students and reward them for their work, but they also are kind of helping with the process of getting the business started with the students,” Perry said.

After watching Singer’s presentation, Perry saw another benefit of the program.

“I think one of the things Clint found out from this is he’s a great public speaker,” she said. “He’s never presented before in front of anyone, and he did a wonderful job, so I think he found that out about himself.”

In preparing for regional, Singer will take the advice from the three judges and try to make his next presentation even better. He said his goal is to make an Auto-Drop prototype to take with him.

Singer said the Maverick Challenge has been a good experience.

“I think it gives people an idea to think about what they want to do (in the future),” he said. “If they are already enrolled in the entrepreneurship class, they already have a mindset to where they want to be in business or something like that. (The Maverick Challenge) really gets them to get their creativity out even if they don’t advance.”

Jackie Hill, workforce director for Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., said the business plans have gotten better each year. The county competition is a joint partnership between JCIDC Workforce Partnership, the Greater Seymour of Commerce and Brownstown Chamber of Commerce.

Most of the students will go on to college and have to develop a business plan or do public speaking, so the Maverick Challenge is good practice for them, she said.

“We have a lot of creative-thinking young people, and it just helps to drive the entrepreneurship to get them thinking about developing that entrepreneur spirit,” she said. “This gives them the opportunity to express that, to develop their plan.”

Hill said the success of the program is credited to the school leaders — Perry at Brownstown, Diane Smith at Seymour and Bryan Schroer at Trinity — community members who serve as mentors and judges, and Old National Bank, JCB, The Peoples Bank and MainSource Bank for helping provide funding.

Perry said she also appreciates everyone supporting the program.

“I know that it is a lot of work, but I really think it’s a very valuable program,” Perry said. “I enjoy doing it because I get to see the students one day look at each other and say, ‘What am I going to do? What do I do? I don’t know what to do,’ and then you see them progress with their own idea. You see them proud of themselves after they’ve made the presentation, and that’s wonderful.”

At a glance

Since 2008, the Maverick Challenge business planning competition has involved more than 500 high school students and mentors in southern Indiana to help students learn about entrepreneurship and starting their own business.

Students must go to school or live in one of the participating counties: Bartholomew, Brown, Dearborn, Decatur, Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Jennings, Ohio, Ripley, Scott or Switzerland. Students may work individually or on a team of up to three people. Teams can consist of students from different high schools within the county.

The three components are student pitches, written business plan and oral presentation.

Judges review and rank the written business plans, and then the top-ranked teams are asked to give an oral presentation on their business plan.

Each county picks an overall winner to advance to the regional competition, and some also send a second-place team to regional. There, they will compete against students from other counties.

Finalists at the county and regional levels earn prize money to use as they wish.

At a glance

Twenty-eight business plans were submitted by Brownstown Central, Seymour and Trinity Lutheran high school for this year’s Maverick Challenge. Ten finalists recently gave oral presentations. All finalists received a cash prize, and the top two advance to regional.


Clinton Singer*;Brownstown;Auto-Drop (electrical system for semitrailer landing gear)

Karen Dringenburg and Savannah Smith*;Seymour;Dringenburg Farms (hop production)

Lauren James;Seymour;Arrow Tracker (app to help with bow-and-arrow hunting)

Cole Borden, Kyle Jensen and Jacob Wilson;Brownstown;Perfect Cut (weed eater guide)

Ashley Sargent;Seymour;Fleet Service Inc. (promoting trucking business)

Emily Von Fange;Seymour;Half and Half (antique and vintage clothing store)

Lillian Bellew, Becky Davidson and Melanie DeWeese;Brownstown;Faith, Hope and Love (gluten-free bakery)

Mitchell Grider, Lance Hackman and John McKinney;Brownstown;Venue Hub (app to assist people visiting a large sports venue)

Madison McKeand and Kelsey Wischmeier;Brownstown;The Beat Bod (app syncing heart rate to the beat of music)

Sarah Shoemaker;Brownstown;RunFun Band (wireless headband to play music)

*Qualified for regional

Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.