03/13/2012 01:18 pm ET Updated May 13, 2012

Student Innovators "Get Their Genius On"

Innovators like Steve Jobs don't just happen -- they are grown. The question is how? The simple answer is: young minds must be challenged and engaged. Our current system that only requires memorization of facts to pass a test just won't do the job of creating the next Steve Jobs.

Challenging students to create their future is one way to invite young minds to innovate and to engage them in design thinking and entrepreneurship.

We need solutions for achieving global sustainability. What about asking a high school student? This year's Spirit of Innovation Challenge did just that. We had teams from all around the globe -- from the U.S. to the Isle of Man in Britain to Saudi Arabia and Vietnam -- developing ideas for global sustainability. Many teams came from underserved and minority-based regions. This year also marked "the year of the girl," with high numbers of registered female competitors, and many "all-girl" teams. Of our 15 finalist teams, two are comprised entirely of girls and seven teams are co-ed.

These kids are designing our future, and I have confidence our future is in capable hands. Just look at some of the cool concepts they developed. The results will amaze you.

There's a team that developed a water filtration device designed to address Haiti's scarcity of clean water -- their prototype is complete and will be shipping to Haiti this summer. Another group created high-technology shoes that generate energy as you walk or run and can be used to recharge a variety of electronic devices.

A team in Utah created a smarter system for graphically labeling allergens in food products ... a life saving idea. A Los Angeles school is researching how ballet can improve the lives of children with autism.

In the aerospace category, student teams developed products ranging from taste enhancer strips packed with vitamins and nutrients which astronauts can use in space to a system of spacecraft that extract valuable materials from asteroids and return them to Earth for sale on global markets.

And, this is just the tip of the iceberg. We asked these students to "Get Their Genius On," and, WOW, did they ever! Get inspired by reading about all of the finalist teams.

These innovative ideas were conceptualized over the course of a few short months in these students' free time with support of a teacher/coach and industry mentors. Just think of the possibilities if this innovation generation was challenged like this every day at school.

We need to get our students excited about STEM education by getting them involved in programs that provide context and practical applications of the knowledge they gain in the classroom. This is how innovators like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg are grown. These global powerhouses took their knowledge of STEM, combined it with innovation and entrepreneurship, and created world-changing breakthroughs which have forever altered the way knowledge is valued, shared and utilized.

The finalists of the Innovation Challenge are on their way. They are now seeing firsthand how innovation and entrepreneurship will help us continue to explore the universe, discover cures for disease and become good stewards of the world we share with our global neighbors.

From March 12 - 23, go to and cast your vote to help your favorite student entrepreneur team have its innovative product honored in this year's global competition.