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This post is written by Preeti and was originally published here.

The InnovateNYC Schools team uses “lean methodology to create catalytic models for how people can do things and think differently in a bureaucracy.” As we apply this to our own work, we are also seeking to engage students in opportunities to learn and apply the same methodology through events like Startup Weekend EDU for Teens. There were numerous takeaways from planning and executing this first-ever event that I hope to share with the community.

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With lean methods in mind, our guiding principle for designing our first iteration was to reduce as many barriers to student participation as possible: financial, infrastructure, and prerequisite knowledge. Reducing barriers enables change and innovation. We adopted Startup Weekend’s framework, which is recognized as a “gold standard” in lean methodology. They highlight key entrepreneurial activities including: customer validation, business model, marketing, and execution. Because we wanted to make this event accessible to a wide range of NYC High School students, there were numerous steps to ensuring enabling conditions for success. Here is a look at some of these steps:

1. Seek feedback from experts in the trenches

2. Modify the programming with feedback

3. Leverage our personal network to recruit mentors and coaches to support programming

What did the weekend look like? The Design Gym held the weekend’s kickoff Idea Explosion Workshop on Friday where students explored their ideas for improving education. The goal of the night was to also prepare students for 60-second pitches which informed which ideas were hacked over the weekend. The workshop was so successful that 14 out of 35 students were confident enough to pitch in front of nearly 50 people Saturday morning. The students then formed six teams made up of 8th-12th grade students representing over 23 schools. Guiding them Saturday and Sunday were 25+ coaches and mentors. All six teams made final presentations on Sunday evening covering such topics as teen jobs and internships, learning about opportunities to gain skills applicable to careers, embracing diversity, and a website for discovering afterschool programs (check it out here!).

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So, how do we validate a successful engagement? Here is one of the several emails I received after the event:

After three days at the first teen StartUp Weekend program my son came home and told me he learned more there than he has learned in two years at his accelerated high school. I don’t think I have ever seen him as energized, enthusiastic or stimulated by any single activity. Coming from a 10th grader that I had to coerce into attending, that is really saying something.” 

Designing, organizing and executing the first-ever Startup Weekend EDU for Teens has been a highlight of my career with the NYCDOE iZone. Though I faced many challenges and failures through the planning process – it was all worth it to tangibly experience impact on increasing access to educational opportunities from within the bureaucracy.

A very special thanks to partners at NYU SteinhardtThe Google+ Education, and Design Gym for making this event possible.


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