Taking the stage at 1 Million Cups this week shouldn’t be too daunting for 12-year-old Joshua Boen – after all, he’s already presented his inventive mobile app to Microsoft and Myriad Mobile.

Josh, a sixth grader at Jim Hill middle school in Minot, ND, won the Marketplace for Kids award with his idea for an app called iCoach. This app would enable coaches to directly communicate with their athletes while they’re in action.

Josh Boen iCoach

Josh presents to Myriad Mobile.

He first thought of the idea as a fifth-grader, after hearing his swim coach Emily Weeks lament on how difficult it was to instruct her swimmers as they swam. If only there were some sort of walkie-talkie that would make this possible, he heard her say.

Josh, whom Weeks’ describes as “a very out-of-the-box thinker,” began brainstorming, and came up with a solution: a wireless head piece, and a mobile application called iCoach.

The iCoach app would connect with the headpiece via Bluetooth, allowing the coach to speak to the athletes in mid-swim. The program also gives the coach control over who they are speaking to, by displaying a list of all the athletes and allowing them to select one or all.

“I discussed this application with other swimmers and friends who added requests such as, ‘Can Coach tell me my splits during a race?’ ‘Can Coach allow our coach to talk to all of us at the same time?’, ‘Can Coach work for other sports?’ The answer to these questions is yes!” Josh said, in an article from the Washington Times.

The headpiece would be made waterproof by a small casing made of similar material to a swim cap, Josh said. However, in order to prevent any leaks, this casing would need to be switched out on a regular basis, he said.

When Josh posed the idea to his swim coach, she thought it was a fantastic and practical idea. In crowded six-lane swimming pools at Minot state, there can be 50 kids in the water at a time, she said. Correcting a swimmer using an incorrect stroke means waiting until they have finished the lap and holding up other swimmers. With iCoach, she said, she’d be able give direct instruction to the student and allow them to correct their technique much quicker.

Josh presented his project during the Marketplace for Kids Bright Ideas Showcase and Contest held this summer at the North Dakota State Fair. His project won first place in the technology category for fifth-graders, as well as the prize for most creative project and innovation in sports.

Last November, he presented the project to Microsoft and Myriad Mobile – a step that is very rare for a Marketplace for Kids winner, Weeks said.

“This is the furthest I’ve ever had a student go,” she said in the Washington Times article.

Josh said when he found out he was presenting to these businesses, he was in “total shock.” But after presenting, he was encouraged by the interest the engineers had in his project.

“I was pretty nervous the entire time,” Josh said. “Everyone seemed really excited about my project which made me relieved. I was surprised how interested all the engineers from both companies were in iCoach. They had a lot of good ideas for me.”

As for the future of the app, Josh said he doesn’t know yet if it will be commercialized, although that is his main goal. All that stands in the way is getting the resources to build it, he said.

“The ultimate goal is to have iCoach available to every team, coach and athlete that can benefit from it,” he said.

The months following his presentation of iCoach last fall have been quite the journey for Josh and his family. Through it all, he’s learned a lot- but one of the main things, he said, is this:

“People are willing to listen to a kid with a good idea.”

Now, Josh and his app are hitting the Stage at Island Park for our weekly 1 Million Cups event. Be sure not to miss this unique presentation from one of our youngest innovators, at 9:15 AM on Wednesday, February 4.

We will also be hosting a live job board; companies looking to fill a position and people looking for work are welcome to come and present after Josh’s presentation.

[Editor’s note: Josh Boen’s age, previously listed as 13, has been corrected to 12 years old.]

Photo courtesy of Dirk Monson.

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Marisa Jackels