Crown Innovations, LLC isn’t your average startup. The group, comprised of five teenagers, got their start as a FIRST® LEGO® League Global Innovation Award Semi-Finalist during the ANIMAL ALLIESSM season. The Calf Pacifier, their innovative solution from the season, is part of their Animals Without Thumbs product line. The products they’ve developed comfort bottle-fed calves and prevent them from sucking on items that are harmful, including their fellow pen mates!

Crown Innovations’ Calf Pacifier in action

During the ANIMAL ALLIES season, the team didn’t realize that the skills they were learning would put them on a path to become young entrepreneurs. The encouragement the team received during their experience as one of 20 Global Innovation Award Semi-Finalists from around the world that season pushed them to keep moving forward with their idea. Of the experience, team members commented, “we would have never thought 4 years ago we’d be manufacturing and trying to sell a product!”

The team at the 2017 Global Innovation Award in Washington, D.C.

When identifying a problem to solve for their ANIMAL ALLIES Project, one of the team members recommended they focus on bottle-fed calves, drawing from their knowledge of the calf cross-sucking problem on their family’s farm.  The team began receiving accolades on their Project during competitions, eventually earning a nomination for the Global Innovation Award. The team held a meeting before participating at the event to decide if they would continue, even if they didn’t win. Half of the team decided they wanted to continue to work together and pursue their solution, no matter the outcome. Today, after 5 years of working together, the group says that they know each other so well they are able to tackle tasks and challenges seamlessly.

Since ANIMAL ALLIES, Crown Innovations has participated in several local expos and competitions, including a pitch competition at Iowa State University where (as the only kids competing against adults) they won first prize! The prize money allowed them to begin investing in their product, and they have since partnered with local companies to begin production. A local connection has led the team to work with a patent attorney who helps them pro bono. His advice during the full utility patent application process was to start broad with their initial description, then narrow it down as they go. The team has not stopped iterating on their Project, and they’re currently working on new designs.

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Members of Crown Innovations explain their products at an event

In addition to persistence, the team attributes their success to teamwork:

“The teamwork side is BIG. We wouldn’t have gotten far without each other’s talents.” 

When asked if they had any advice for other teams, each member offered a thoughtful response:

  • Don’t shoot down ideas that sound “dumb.” Usually our best ideas come from the weirdest, random ones.
  • Think outside the box; use your imagination and nothing is out of reach if you’re a kid.
  • On presenting your idea – you may be familiar with the details, but listeners aren’t; make sure to explain everything each presentation.
  • Keep going—don’t give up! Sometimes it seems like you won’t get there, but if you give up, you definitely won’t.
  • Work together, because if you don’t, you’re working against each other.

These humble innovators know their coaches and mentors don’t know everything; they acknowledge that they still have some things to learn themselves.

How do the teens stay motivated? The team members offered some insight:

  • What they are doing is not just an advantage for them, but for all the farmers and calves their product can help.
  • Each new experience they have together keeps them motivated; they want to witness and help each other succeed
  • As their interests change and grow, they incorporate those changes into their business, so it stays fun.
  • Knowing that their company might one day help pay for college—or a Tesla—helps, too!
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Crown Innovations – a proud group of teenage entrepreneurs

To learn more about Crown Innovations and their Animals without Thumbs product line, visit their website:


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