Hannah Pucci had only a few minutes to explain her invention and business concept at the CTNext Entrepreneur Innovation Awards in June. The 16-year-old student at Danbury High School was presenting in front of a panel of entrepreneurial experts for the chance to win a $10,000 grant to advance her invention, Egghead Ice Cream.
Hannah’s thoroughly outside-the-carton concept is an ice cream-packing method in which egg-shaped, pre-packaged scoops are offered in an egg carton-like package. This method avoids the hassle of scooping ice cream, offers multiple flavor varieties in one carton and provides portion control.
By the time of the CTNext presentation, she had already spent four years pushing this concept forward, and as a regular actress and singer in school plays, she had experience talking about the idea in front of people. But this presentation was different.
Kim Pucci, Hannah’s mom, says, “Hannah’s very comfortable representing [Egghead] and she speaks to all kinds of audiences.” But Kim, director of external relations for the charity Action Against Hunger, adds the Shark Tank-style pitch of the presentation would be intimidating to anyone, regardless of age. “She was prepared, but they ask three minutes’ worth of questions.”
Unlike the eggs which inspired her invention, Hannah didn’t crack.
Instead she aced the presentation and earned the $10,000 grant. It’s the latest in a long line of successes for Hannah. This summer UConn Dairy Bar began a trial run — which will last till October — of Egghead Ice Cream. In 2012, Hannah won the Connecticut Invention Convention’s Blue Ribbon Award and Whole Foods’ “Food Innovation Award.” She has been invited to meet with executives at both Baskin-Robbins and Dippin’ Dots, and she has received guidance and assistance from The Connecticut Small Business Development Center. The center connected her with the UConn School of Engineering, which helped her with the proof of concept and high-volume manufacturing plan for the product. The center encouraged her to pursue a patent for the invention, which was awarded in 2016.
Hannah had the idea when she was 11. A sixth-grader at the time, she was in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program at Rogers Park Middle School in Danbury. The class required her to come up with an invention and pitch it at the Connecticut Invention Convention, held each year at UConn’s Gampel Pavilion. Her teacher encouraged the students to think of a problem, then think of an invention that could serve as a solution to that problem. Hannah struggled with the assignment at first. “For weeks I was stuck thinking of the worst problems and solutions,” she says. “They had no market potential.”
Then, she saw her mother struggling to scoop ice cream into a cone and thought it would be easier to just pull out a preformed portion of ice cream and pop it into a cone. The concept for Egghead was born.
Denise Whitford, a business adviser with the Connecticut Small Business Development Center who has mentored Hannah, says this type of inspiration is what younger people can provide as entrepreneurs. “The unique thing about working with folks like Hannah or other minors is that they look at things differently,” Whitford says. “We as adults tend to cast a lot of experience to what we do and don’t do, and sometimes that’s a barrier for us to do things differently.”
In addition to the unique nature of her idea, Whitford says Hannah’s success has been helped by her being “extraordinarily articulate.” Whitford adds, “She’s very creative and highly motivated.”
Hannah works tirelessly on the project, balancing her role as CEO of a startup company with high school and an after-school job.
“She has a double life,” says Hannah’s mom. “I feel bad sometimes; she stays up late at night doing homework, she gets up, goes to school all day, she gets home and I’m like ‘OK, you have a business call.’”
Hannah chimes in, “But it’s all worth it. It’s really going to pay off one day.”
When Hannah, who has two younger sisters, Haley, 13, and Laurel, 7, finishes high school and goes to college, she’d like to study engineering like her father Michael Pucci, who is a civil engineer.
No matter what she does, she’s determined to keep pushing forward with Egghead. “I’ve always envisioned it in grocery stores all over America and that’s where I’m determined to bring it,” she says.