Middle School Students Are Driving Education Innovation!

This post by Michaela Brown (@michaela_brown), co-organizer of Startup Weekend Education Mountain View

“We have only one of the two crucial components of entrepreneurship. We have computers but no coffee,” a group of 12-year-olds told keynote speaker Andrew Sutherland, founder of Quizlet, at the first Startup Weekend for middle school students.

Okay, okay. We’ll take ownership of that oversight. Good on the iPads and Chromebooks for all, but next time enough coffee for 60 tweens for a full weekend. Noted.

In our defense, it was the first Startup Weekend Education for student entrepreneurs ages 11-13, the youngest age group in Startup Weekend history. Another ‘first’ was Startup Weekend’s appearance in Mountain View, California.

Not only do these Mountain View students have the developmental advantage of easy access to the most innovative businesses and resources, but many are children of parents who work for such companies. From an early age they are exposed to the latest technology and words like ‘Java’, ‘HTML’ and ‘CSS’.


Chris Chiang, lead organizer of the event, is a middle school history teacher, technologist and a school board trustee for the Mountain View Whisman School District. Last week he explained in an interview why middle school students need to be the center of Startup Weekend Education. He anticipated the experience being equally beneficial for the kids and adult helpers. He was right on target.

“It was a learning opportunity for all of us,” said Chloe Wood, former SWEDU participant in Oakland and mentor of the winning team, Notebook Check. “Startup Weekend facilitated the learning process for the kids, but we were learning from them too. They have so much conviction about their ideas and zero inhibitions. As adults grow older, we lose that. We lose it and then train ourselves to gain it back. Watching them dive in effortlessly is inspiring.”

Inspiring and infectious. We had a long and impressive list of mentors and coaches with edtech and education backgrounds who wanted ‘in’ on the inspiration and action. Saturday morning we asked the mentors to pick one startup team and stick with them for the weekend. Mentors chose their teams according to matched interests and areas of expertise.

The coaches arrived at set times on Saturday and Sunday to run one-hour workshops for business planning, coding and design. Some coaches rotated to each startup team to share their message and give students the opportunity to ask questions.

Parents were invited to hang out, but if they wanted to be more involved we asked them to either become a coach to all students or become a mentor to a team other than his/her son/daughter.

Saturday afternoon a student’s mother dropped by to watch for a couple hours. After she and I had been talking for a few minutes in the gym she said it smelled too heavily of Doritos, so we stepped outside to continue the conversation.

We sat down on a bench between the Crittenden Middle School gym and the library, where three of the teams were working. Co-facilitator Jessica Falkenthal exited the library, looking down at the ground as if in deep thought as she walked across the blacktop. She had a big grin on her face.

This was Jessica’s 17th Startup Weekend.

“I am just so happy to be here. These kids…everything is effortless. ‘You just coded that?’ (mimics a sassy/bored) ‘Yeah.’ And the quality of their work is even better than some adults’.”

The mother, Premika Ratuam, spoke up: “My son, I’ve never seen him so focused and organized. I can’t believe he is organizing a group. This morning he told me, ‘Everything is under control.’ I’ve never heard him say those words. And when he was on the microphone last night pitching his idea, his voice, it sounded so deep! It was a huge shock. I know their voices are supposed to change about now but that was the first time I’ve heard it on him. His voice…it really filled the whole room! I was wondering to myself, ‘Who is this?’”

The 24 pitches on Friday night and the eight final pitches on Sunday were the best Jessica had witnessed in 17 Startup Weekends. Typically adult participants have trouble refraining from going over the time limit during their pitches. At SWEDUMV we hardly had any kids incapable of selling their message within the allotted time. These kids had it all: charisma, humor, concise and simple presentation, and remarkable product demos. Most teams had even designated people to answer specific questions that they anticipated the judges to ask.

I was interested to see how the kids would navigate the ‘each team member must speak’ rule that Chris added. Some Startup Weekend alum and coaches believe the more speakers you add, the more complex and distracting the pitch can get. Yet once again, the middle school students handled the quest with poise. Nearly all students spoke on Sunday in front of a packed gymnasium, with the Doritos aroma ever so faint.

The general consensus was that the middle school students were brilliant, confident and worked well in teams. Chloe mentioned noticing the difference in the way the all-girls team interacted and problem-solved compared to the all-boys teams. “I feel like I’m an anthropologist, studying them!” she laughed. “I can’t help it – it’s so interesting.”

The main takeaway for Leilei Wu, Community Manager at Pop, was feeling good about the real-world exposure for the kids. “All the technical stuff you can learn from a book,” Leilei said. “You can learn everything by yourself these days. You need curiosity and you need to know what people really want. Kids have that. But how to think logically about how things work – that is from experience. Adults gain that over time, but think where they could be now if they had started earlier. That’s why it’s important for the kids to be jumping in at this stage.”

Part of the mission of the SWEDU Mountain View organizers and facilitators was giving the kids opportunities to learn how to problem-solve with a team and effectively communicate an idea. With these objectives in mind we designed a curriculum with a unique instructional component that does not exist in the adult Startup Weekend program. We walked them through the various stages of startup development via brief instructions followed by educational activities. This approach came very naturally to our co-facilitators, Jess and John Baldo, both former educators.

Our other goal for the weekend was to generate interest in entrepreneurship and technology. Chris explained, “At the adult events, this would be assumed; it’s why they sign up. For kids, we offer activities to build this passion.”

Or, as in the case of the Mountain View middle school students who attended, the passion for entrepreneurship may already exist, but perhaps only second-hand passion inherited from a parent or their environment.

It was hardly a challenge in Mountain View to build student interest in technology. On opening night when we asked the students who knew how to code, about a quarter of them raised their hands. When we asked who was a designer, about a third of the hands rose. And they were hungry for more – the SWEDUMV developer and designer coaching workshops were overflowing and buzzing throughout the weekend.

Their prototypes were especially impressive considering they had less than 12 hours to work on them on-site. We cut the program duration of the standard 54 hours in half, reasoning that 11-13 year olds have less endurance than adults. Adult Startup Weekend participants have more than double the time to create their prototypes at the venue site. In addition to that valuable face-time, adults also have the freedom to continue working together elsewhere when the venue closes.


The stricter time constraint the kids faced had no effect on the quality of the apps, websites and the one physical model they built. With the help of Pop, an app that turns hand-drawn wireframes to interactive prototypes, and the superstar mentors and coaches, again, the student entrepreneurs exceeded expectations.

It was pretty special to watch middle school students bravely walk up to the mic on Friday night to share their ideas for solving the biggest problems in education today. The audience was engaged, chuckling as they followed along from the perceived education problem to explaining why people should care, for example, “all the stuff students carry in middle school is the reason Americans have back problems later in life,” and the earnestness with which it was presented.

In between the laughs I couldn’t help but think about all the students around the world who would give anything for this opportunity.

On Friday night Premika’s son, Geoffrey Glass (13) and his neighbor Varun (13), pitched two of their six ideas, which were brainstormed in the backseat of Premika’s minivan while riding to the event.

“Ask adults how long they’ve been thinking of the ideas they pitch at Startup Weekend and they’ll say three years, 10 years, 17 years,” Jessica said. “There is no fear with these kids; it’s incredible.”

It’s clear that the middle school students at Startup Weekend Education Mountain View have mastered the art of showing passion for an idea while also being able to shrug and move on if things didn’t go their way – caring a lot without caring too much. It would be difficult to measure if that skill existed in them before SWEDUMV, but we do know they were flexing that important muscle often over the weekend, and the adult volunteers and audience fed off that aptitude and energy.

Our next move is providing more environments and support around the world through Startup Weekend to foster those raw skills early and often. If you want to join the revolution of training and building confidence in young entrepreneurs, contact Startup Weekend Education (swedu@up.co) for more info. Words of advice: Don’t underestimate on the coffee.

If you are interested in organizing an event for youth entrepreneurship and education innovation in your region, feel free to contact swedu@up.co 

Phoenix is About to Get Even Hotter: Startup Weekend Education is Coming to Town

Written by organizers of Startup Weekend EDU in Phoenix:

On April 25th, Phoenix will kick off its first-ever Startup Weekend EDU, bringing together educators, entrepreneurs, designers, developers, and other business professionals from across the Valley of the Sun.  Driven by their passion for education innovation, participants share ideas, form teams, design products and launch education start-ups — all in just 54 hours.

The Valley is already home to a number of leading, innovative education institutions, including Apollo Group (University of Phoenix), Arizona State University, Arizona Venture Fund for Quality Education, Grand Canyon Education, Mesa Public Schools and its TechExpo, Pearson, FlipSwitch (Primavera Online High School) and Rio Salado Community College.  Phoenix also boasts a growing number of dynamic, education technology start-ups including Parchment, rSmart, StormWind, Synergis Education and recent LAUNCHedu finalists Proctor.io as well as ASU’s innovation center Skysong and its Education Innovation Summit.


As Matt Pittinsky, the CEO of Parchment notes, “having relocated to Phoenix first to teach at ASU and then to lead Parchment, I appreciate the history of education innovation here and our great scaled online and campus-based education institutions.  I can also appreciate the value of entrepreneurial ecosystems as I previously co-founded Blackboard in the thriving edtech hub of Washington DC and Baltimore.  We are working to tie together all the Valley’s players, from public schools to online start-ups and in that way put Phoenix on the map.”

Phoenix Startup Weekend EDU seeks to add the missing grassroots element to these large and formal efforts.  Having had the good fortune to be involved with Startup Weekend EDU efforts across LA, Chicago, and NYC, we have observed the energy and outcomes of these events, including new start-ups and non-profit programs like ImagiLabs’s Challenge Box, Qeyno, Kidfit Academy, and PDnearMe. In combination with our new local network Educelerate Phoenix, we are eager to transform new innovative education ideas into action.

Phoenix Startup Weekend EDU commences just two days after the ASU Education Innovation Summit on Friday April 25nd.  Purchase your ticket at phoenixedu.eventbrite.com to join a team and work with our supporting educators, entrepreneurs and investors, including our organizers Julie Bai (API Evangelist, Developer Relations at Pearson), Emily Breuker (higher education strategy leader), and Christopher Nyren (founder of Educated Ventures and Educelerate).  A special thank you to Tom vander Ark who has also helped promote our event and the Phoenix education ecosystem.

Educators, You Are Enough!

This post was written by Nina Portugal: teacher at OUSD’s Castlemont High School, recent founder of Rock Your Voice and winner of Startup Weekend Education (SWEDU) Oakland. Watch her demo here: http://bit.ly/1iiIUov

Like an itch, my start-up idea kept creeping back into my mind. Sometimes I would take a second to scratch it and do some research, but usually I would just ignore it. I was a teacher, not a coder. I was a mentor, not a designer. I was a coach, not a businesswoman. I couldn’t imagine nor did I understand how to make my idea a reality.  Yet I knew it would be a game changer in my room and many others.

Then I got an email about SWEDU Oakland. The itch returned. Maybe, I thought. But I quickly returned to lesson planning or grading papers; my reality.

However, that itch was persistent and I decided to reach out to John Baldo, one of the event organizers, about the opportunity. I went back and forth, but like a good teacher, he stood by me. He wrote me encouraging emails and kept telling me, “You are enough.”

This mantra is one I employ in my classroom with my youth and one that guides my own teaching on my hardest days. However, it was a mantra I had forgotten to listen to at this moment.

Before I knew it, my roommate forced me to sign up and there I was Friday after school practicing my pitch in my living room. There were two voices in my head. One encouraging me to go and another reminding me of my endless to-do list of lesson plans, unit plans, and parent phone calls. I entered Cole Elementary carrying a mixed bag of emotions and a post-it note with my pitch.

Now many of you may be thinking, how could a teacher be scared of public speaking? It is true that all day long I am in front of a crowd talking. I am dancing around, putting myself out there, and trying my hardest to sell skills like paraphrasing, summarizing, and vocabulary. However, my students feel more like a family than an audience. As loud as my teacher voice may be or as comfortable as I am in front of my class, I was immediately intimidated.

Then that voice inside my head began:


Pitches began. I listened and took a few notes on my post-its and, in round two, finally had the courage to get in line for my pitch. For the first time my idea was entering the public space and before I started my minute I reminded myself once more that I was enough.

The next three hours sped by. People voted for me, and I quickly advanced to the top ten and even more quickly had an amazing team of two business people and three coders. We began to brain dump and I soon saw that our passions aligned and my idea could become a reality. I left that night full of adrenaline.

The next morning, I was the first one to arrive – teachers are never tardy – and a bit scared. The teacher in me also made up a “norms” poster with the number one rule being, “you are enough.” I knew, just like in my classroom, if we believed in ourselves we could move mountains. Before we left that night, the impossible was made possible and our voice recognition software existed.

Before I knew it, Sunday arrived and it was time to put our product to the real test. As the team leader, and face of our product, I would be giving the pitch. Once again, I had to talk in front of a room full of people and experience the “Shark Tank” experience once more. However this time, I was a little less worried. I had been talking to my students all day long and they seemed to like the product. I kept reminding myself that I was doing this for them and our class. With my focus clear I walked up to the front of the gymnasium and turned on my teacher voice.

At the mention of Castlemont the crowed erupted in claps and whistles. I not only had the support of my team and my students, but also my community. The pitch began and I could feel the engagement. My blood was rushing as I made sure the crowd was absolutely silent for our demo, which worked perfectly.

I knew whatever the outcome was in regards to prizes, my goal had been achieved. I had workable software for my young people and that’s what mattered most. However, winning is never bad either…

As I reflect on the experience, I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities it provided. It is easy to stick to our comfort zones and put our selves in boxes. I almost kept my idea locked inside my head because of my own fears. Thanks to SWEDU not only did my idea become a reality and a working product with plans to move forward, but I also learned so much. I learned a little about coding, design, marketing, and business. I got to talk to amazing coaches and individuals in the field, and I saw the wide range of ways I could greatly impact my students and students throughout Oakland, California, and internationally.

So you’re probably thinking, what now? Sunday night I came home and lesson planned for about three hours and today at school I ran my classroom business as usual. Tomorrow I will do the same, as will I the next day. However, I love this idea and I am dedicated to turn it into a scalable reality for OUSD and other districts. Our team continues to meet and thanks to SWEDU I can confidently say, “I am enough” and I am ready to move mountains.

Inspired yet? Sign up to attend or organize a Startup Weekend Education in your town at swedu.co

What can NYC Teens create in just one weekend?

This post was written by SWEDU community member Samson Peng

If you’ve participated in a Startup Weekend and stopped by this event thinking you know what to expect, you’re in for a surprise. The rooms and hallways at this event are filled with teenagers. In a main meeting room, a keyboard clacks rhythmically to the rotations of a Rubik’s Cube as two teens meet each other. A crowd of young aspiring students queued by towering glass doors. Hushed whispers mixed with excited chatter within the effervescent halls of New York University’s MAGNET in Brooklyn’s MetroTech Center.


The Teens Track at Startup Weekend EDU brought together high school students from the boroughs of New York and even two entrepreneurial students from New Jersey: Nikita Krasnogorov and Emily Fuentes from the Academy for Independent Studies in the Hudson County Schools of Technology school district (both their teams Ducky and A Passionate Pursuit proceeded to take first and second place).

SWEDU Teens focused on engaging teens in the entire entrepreneurial process, from idea generation to product development, all within one short weekend – a challenge even for teams of trained and experienced professionals. As the event kicked off, each teen brought their unique educational and incredibly diverse cultural backgrounds to the games-inspired presentation room, united by the anticipation which filled the seats of the room.

Gabrielle Santa-Donato and Andy Hagerman of The Design Gym got things started with Friday night training on design thinking. Students were given the tools to dive deeper into their proposed ideas and identify the underlying problem they were trying to solve.  The problems that surfaced during these discussions were all derived from first-hand experiences ranging from racial segregation in the cafeteria to a mountain of frustration surrounding the infamous SATs.  By the end of the evening, most students walked away with a well-refined problem/solution pair and were ready to pitch bright and early the next morning.  On Saturday, many brave souls (at least half) took the stage and gave excellent pitches.  After quite a bit of discussion and voting, every student had found a team and was eager to get started.

The Saturday workday allowed each startup team to strategize, validate, prototype and tweak their products. Not a second was wasted as teens surveyed their facebook friends, designed their products and coded on the Chromebooks provided for them. After products were developed, professional mentors rotated around teams, giving them vital tips and answering their questions. One team consulted their mentor to explain programming bottlenecks they’d encountered. Another team filled jumbo dual-sided whiteboards (on both sides) with ideas and designs for their mentor to review. Yet another teen practiced presenting data to her mentor, who paused momentarily to remind the team to stay focused.


On the final evening, teens had the opportunity to present their projects to their peers and a panel of entrepreneurs, government representatives, professors and leaders in education. Highlights amongst presentations included a live demo web application named Ducky, used to aggregate extracurricular activities for teenagers, a job sourcing website just for teens and a business which helps teens discover their passions – each idea carefully crafted to address the needs of a young generation which sees how technology could benefit them.

The weekend was an ambitious experiment: What happens when you bring together over 30 teens from diverse backgrounds, create an explorative environment, provide access to supportive mentors and freedom for less than 24 hours? Creative solutions to teen concerns, an extraordinary learning experience and businesses hilariously named after their favorite rubber duckies.

Between the hustle of time constraints, the hallways of MAGNET filled with laughter, conversation, and teens learning about the benefits (and sometimes challenges) of working in teams. SWEDU Teens is not a typical event – it is a movement to show our youth their potential and dare them to dream.

LearnFest Brings Startup Weekend EDU to Brazil

swedu logo dec 5

On January 30, Startup Weekend EDU is coming to São Paulo, Brazil for the first time. Even better news is that it’s coming as part of LearnFest: a festival creating a dialogue about the most pressing challenges and promising opportunities for innovation in learning.

Secretaries, Ministers of Education, NGO leaders for business and founders of technology startups, including Andres Moreno, CEO of Open English will be sharing their expertise as speakers, panelists and coaches of teams participating in Startup Weekend EDU.

Startup Weekend EDU is a global initiative that brings people together over the course of 54 hours to launch startups that have the ability to drastically improve the educational experience for various types of learners. Only two years old, SWEDU has already expanded to 16 cities across the world, and now São Paulo!

LearnFest will be happening in the context of Campus Party, a week long, 24-hours-a-day technology festival where thousands of hackers, developers, gamers and technophiles immerse themselves in a truly unique environment.  LearnFest along with Startup Weekend EDU will be bringing educators into the mix.

To learn more and register for this huge event, visit http://saopauloedu.startupweekend.org/.

Inaugural Oakland Startup Weekend EDU


On February 21, Oakland will kick off its first-ever Startup Weekend EDU, bringing together Bay Area entrepreneurs, designers, developers, and educators. In just 54 hours, teams will take innovative ideas from concept to launch.

What makes it an EDU event? All teams are working on ideas that have been “educator-approved”!

Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) will host participants at its Cole Middle School location. Originally a school, Cole now houses OUSD’s Technology Services group. Information Technology Officer John Krull and Venture Capitalist Mitch Kapor, among others, will serve as a judges and provide feedback to competing teams at the end of the weekend. Edtech entrepreneur and former CTO of OUSD Gee Kin Chou, as well as seasoned developers, product design experts, and investors, will be on hand to mentor teams during the weekend.

Cole Middle School Classroom

One special prize will reward a solution most likely to change the face of Oakland education. Oakland Startup Weekend EDU is made possible through support from the Kapor Center for Social Impact, NewSchools Venture Fund, and the Rogers Family Foundation.

First Startup Weekend EDU Teens Event in NYC!

This post written by the Startup Weekend EDU NYC Teens organizing team:

The globally recognized Startup Weekend is hosting the first-ever Startup Weekend EDU (SWEDU) Teens Track in NYC January 31-February 2. The goal of SWEDU Teens Track is to engage high school students in a hands-on startup experience and build their knowledge of entrepreneurship through live pitches, design sessions, mentor hours, and collaboration with like-minded students.

The focus of this weekend will be on ideas related to improving education. As consumers of education, teens are expertly equipped to define key problems in current teaching and learning, and to build the tools and school models that enable students to be better learners. We are seeking high school students with an interest in challenging assumptions about traditional education and who are eager to develop new education technology products and new school models to join us for this exciting weekend.


The SWEDU Teen Track kicks off on Friday evening with user-research experts from the Design Gym who will lead participants through a “Idea Explosion Workshop.” Students will discover develop their new ideas for education into 60-second pitches.

On Saturday morning, students will give their 60-second pitch for a new edtech product or school model to all event attendees. From there, teens will form teams based on the best pitches and spend Saturday and Sunday focusing on user research, customer validation, building prototypes, and developing their ideas together. Each team will be supported by a dedicated coach to help them reach their goal of creating an engaging final presentation that includes a business model and prototype.

The weekend will culminate with teams presenting their final products or school models to a panel of expert judges. Teams will experience what it’s like to pitch an idea or product and receive valuable feedback from the judges.

SWEDU Teens track is tailored to young entrepreneurs, and we’re excited to work with great partners, like NFTE, NYU Steinhardt, Design Gym and others to bring the event to life. Location: NYU Steinhardt, 2 Metrotech, 8th Floor Brooklyn, NY.

High school students interested in participating should submit the completed application forms (1. Parent / Guardian Notification & Consent form 2. Media Consent form)  to nycedu@startupweekend.org by Friday (1/24). Please note: Sign-ups will be confirmed on a first-come/first-serve basis.

Join us as we share ideas, form teams, and build products and new school models, at the first-ever SWEDU Teen Track event!

Startup Weekend NYC EDU 2014-01-05 19-39-56

Adult Professionals, if you are interested in participating as Coaches or Mentors for the SWEDU Teens Track, please fill out this interest form and/or contact nycedu@startupweekend.org for more information.

Why does LA need a Startup Weekend exclusively for Education?

This post was written by organizers of LA’s upcoming Startup Weekend EDU:


EDUpreneurs in Los Angeles have finally found the quote they have been waiting for: “The first ever Startup Weekend EDU in the City of Angels will take place on the weekend of January 24th at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.”

– EdSurge.com

Until now, Angelenos passionate about education and startups have only had 3 choices:

1) Buy a plane ticket

While LA hosts a variety of incubators, meetups, VCs and startup gatherings, those looking to find the epicenter for educational innovation have undeniably had to look elsewhere.   Additionally, the circuit of education keeps skipping LA, and as a result, entrepreneurs looking to join in the ed-craze have needed to rack up frequent flier miles.

2) Read about success somewhere else.

LA is in the news and under the microscope for purchasing devices.  Yet, the heated debates rarely highlight tremendous success.  While our newspapers are filled with the many problems of a large-scale implementation, entrepreneurs should be enamored with the opportunities to make a powerful solution within our own classrooms.

3) DIY – Go it alone and scrap together a solution for the nation’s second largest city and its neediest students.

LA has a rapidly growing entrepreneurial community, with a patchwork of educational technologists and do-gooders.  However, up until now the community has been relatively quiet.  A spattering of great challenges, teacher groups and passionate leaders has started the conversation, but its still a whisper.


From January 24th-26th, for the first time ever, LA will bring together the greatest educators and entrepreneurs.  In just 54 hours,  the goal is to form a new age of educational startups.  While the purpose of Startup Weekend EDU is to have newly formed teams compete for the greatest innovation, the melding of minds at UCLA Anderson is an opportunity for our EDU community to cooperate.  This city has all of the tools to become the leader in education and to showcase success.

Visit laedu.startupweekend.org to learn more and sign up for your ticket.  Please contact laedu@startupweekend.org for additional information.