On the 31st floor of U.S. Bancorp's headquarters Tuesday, top executives gathered around a boardroom to hear a series of pitches for innovative new apps that tackle pressing environmental and social issues.

One team presented an idea to help consumers track their groceries to ensure they're used before the expiration date. Others showcased apps to help prevent scams on the elderly and to connect farmers with businesses that can help them improve sustainability.

But these presenters weren't the typical downtown Minneapolis suits or Silicon Valley startups. These innovators were mostly girls, some as young as eight years old.

"It's the best meeting I've had all day," beamed CEO Andy Cecere, who gave some of the students high-fives after they finished their presentations.

This is the sixth year U.S. Bank has hosted a pitch challenge as part of Technovation Girls Minnesota, a 12-week program in which teams of girls and nonbinary students from elementary, middle and high schools around the state work together in groups to build apps as well as work on projects in artificial intelligence.

"Being a woman in technology and seeing this many women in a room that are preparing to go into technology just really gives me energy," said Shelbi Rombout, deputy chief information security officer for U.S. Bank, who provided one-on-one feedback to teams after the presentations along with other executives.

Ten-year-old Aadhya Sambhangi from Plymouth was impressed that Cecere came to talk to her group to ask them about their food waste app.

"After he left, I was like, 'I just talked to the CEO,' " she said. "I was so surprised. I don't think many people get to talk to a CEO."

Sambhangi said she used to want to be a chef. But now, she realizes she's also good at technology, so she's thinking she might want to pursue both.

Cecere added it was inspiring how each team identified a problem that needed fixing, just as the bank's app developers do. And he applauded them for making their pitches with such passion and poise.

"I was thinking back when I was in fifth grade, I couldn't have done that," he said. "No way."

This year, about 41 teams made up of 143 students finished their projects as part of the Technovation competition in Minnesota, said Valerie Lockhart, executive director of Code Savvy, a Twin Cities-based nonprofit that runs the program.

The teams will face off at a statewide pitch event later this month. Along the way, U.S. Bank, as well as Cargill, held pitch events for select teams to give them a little extra feedback, mentorship and experience, she said.

In addition to beginners who made their first pitches Tuesday, other more-experienced teams were also on hand, including a group of four students from Chatfield High School in southeastern Minnesota.

Elizabeth Schieffelbein, one of three seniors on the team, is in her sixth year participating in Technovation. And it was her second time pitching to U.S. Bank executives.

"The feedback they give is always really good," she said. "And it's such a unique opportunity. So we're all super thrilled to be able to do it again."

While her group was among the more-seasoned, they had their own jitters and challenges. They had planned to use a video as their pitch. But after being told that live presentations were encouraged, they hustled to put together slides and to decide who would say what on the two-hour car ride to Minneapolis.

"It was definitely pretty nerve-racking," Schieffelbein said. "But I think we kept our cool and hit it."

Her team advanced to the global Technovation competition in previous years. She's hoping it can do so again this year in her final year in the program. Regardless, she wants to be a mentor next year.

"It definitely has helped with public speaking and also just female empowerment, really," she said.

She plans to attend Winona State University in the fall and to study arts education, putting her coding skills to use in animation.

Leah Siskind and Rio Graves from Minneapolis wore matching "L&R Studios" T-shirts — a riff on their names — and carried rainbow flags with them to promote their app, a resource for allies of the LGBTQ community that provides guidelines, for example, in how to use nonbinary pronouns.

Siskind said it was intimidating — at least, at first — to present in front of a group of business executives.

"It wasn't as scary when we got up there," Siskind said. "It was more scary sitting down and waiting."

Graves added everybody was very supportive.

"I'm really glad they do this program, especially to encourage female and nonbinary people in a male-dominated field," Graves said.

And, of course, there were plenty of open-ended job offers at the event, too.

"My team is ready to take you," Anitha Perumalla, a U.S. Bank vice president and director of software engineering, told the dozen or so students.