We love hearing about startup stories from attendees of Philadelphia Startup Weekend. Check out Cassie Aran’s PHLSW 2012 experience and how it inspired her to start her own business:
PHLSW: Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into the startup scene.
CA: I became interested in entrepreneurship Freshman year of college when my school encouraged me to attend Startup Weekend events. It opened my eyes to all the different components and people a business needs to work. I graduated college a few months ago and used this knowledge to start Cookie Munchers, a late night cookie delivery service for Rowan students and homes in Glassboro, NJ.
I started a cookie delivery service because I thought it was something I could really have fun with. Since opening five weeks ago, we have sold over 900 boxes of cookies and made four behind the scenes video blogs for my YouTube channel “KICKINwithCASSIE” The videos show the real life struggles and triumphs I’ve faced while launching my first startup. You can also find us on Facebook and our website:
PHLSW: What inspired you to go to Philadelphia Startup Weekend? (How did you find out about it?)
CA: Rowan University has a great entrepreneurship program and they email you about all entrepreneurship events in the surrounding area. I was taking a class in entrepreneurship that encourages students to go out and attend events around startups. The class offered to pay for any students that wanted to attend for the first time. I took them up on the offer and since then have attended two more startup weekends. These weekends connected me with friends from various backgrounds who all wanted to start businesses.
PHLSW: Do you remember how you felt the first day of Philadelphia Startup Weekend?
CA: As an 18 year old freshman, I was definitely nervous when I saw how many people were there and all were older than me. Originally I was way too scared to pitch an idea. However, last minute I decided that it would be a cool experience, so I tried it. It was nerve racking and my idea didn’t make it through, but I joined another team that ended up being perfect for me.
PHLSW: What was your role and responsibilities on your team at the PHLSW event?
CA: Although I am a business major, I have a background in design, so I did all the graphic design needed behind the idea. Being a freshman in college, my business knowledge wasn’t fully established yet.
PHLSW: What was the most important lesson that you learned from your Startup Weekend experience?
CA: I learned to just take a chance and try new things. Although my idea wasn’t chosen, I met some amazing people and learned about all the components needed to put a successful business together. I learned just taking a chance can really change your input on life and entrepreneurship.
PHLSW: Can you share your top 3 tips to attendees going to Philadelphia Startup Weekend this year?
- Try pitching an idea. Even if it doesn’t get through, it will take you out of your comfort zone and help you become more comfortable in front of a crowd.
- Get names and numbers of the people you work with and stay in touch. You are all from different backgrounds and will be able to help each other in the future, its guaranteed!
- Even if the idea doesn’t end up being executed, put all your effort into it so you can get the full experience of putting the business together. And don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand what everyone is doing. Everyone is there to help and learn!
Thanks for sharing with us Cassie! We hope you find Cassie’s story inspiring like we did.
If you still haven’t signed up for Philadelphia Startup Weekend yet, you can do so here and save 25% on your ticket if you use promo code ‘PHLSWLASTCALL’ at ticket selection.
Expires October 31st. Get your ticket here: Philadelphia Startup Weekend Event
When you sign up for Startup Weekend, you start to dream. When you’re in the thick of building a business in a weekend, you start to believe the dream could become a reality. If you keep at it years later, the dream will become a reality.
It all starts during Friday night pitches. The days and months leading up to Startup Weekend are exciting and a bit nerve-racking. What if… is a question that comes to mind often. What if no one likes my idea? What if I don’t get along with my team? What if we lose?
Here are a few more possibilities: What if we win? What if I love my team? What if this event changes everything for me?
These are extreme examples, and the team of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh: Women’s Edition organizers have experienced the highs and lows of Startup Weekend. It’s an all-encompassing event built on teamwork, competition, and dreams. If you’ve ever wanted to take the leap to start a company, we’re here to dream with you. It starts with a pitch.
Very special thank you to sponsor Viewpoint Production Services for helping us create the pitch video!
I’ve participated in many hackathons — both as a marketer and as a developer. I’ve found that every person who participates in Startup Weekend (SUW) is wanted but the most difficult segment to recruit are developers.
A little about myself: I learned to code in 2013 and made the career switch from marketer to developer. It is incredibly empowering to think up an idea and to be able to build it yourself. Developers at Startup Weekend often make a big impact because when they pitch an idea, it is implied that it is technically feasible and it is open for collaboration with non-technical/designer participants.
Developers considering signing up for Startup Weekend should consider all of the great benefits and opportunities that it presents:
- Found a new API you’ve been meaning to tinker with? Pitch it!
- Been dabbling in a new language that you’d love to try out? This is a great opportunity to build a real app with it (For me: this is Elm and Haskell).
- Know a ton of developers but not the rest of the startup community? Now’s your chance.
- Looking for a new job and want to meet people who can connect you with one? This is especially important for junior developers.
- Need to round out your portfolio and prove that you have management skills? Leading a team at SUW is great experience.
- Love delicious food and prizes? The price of the ticket pales to all of the great swag and local food and coffee you get to enjoy all weekend.
- Been curious about learning about the business and design side of things? The knowledge transfer at Startup Weekend is one the best parts of the weekend. I often encourage developers to not get boxed into coding only.
- For my event specifically (Startup Weekend Pittsburgh: Women’s Edition), want to meet other kickass women in our community? Find a mentor or a co-founder? SUW is the place.
Participating as a developer is not a ploy to get free work from talented programmers. Rather, it is a way for you to assist another entrepreneur in bringing her idea to fruition or find the amazing team that will turn your venture into reality.
We’re recruiting developers, designers and business folk to join us on March 18th – 20th, 2016 at Alphalab for Startup Weekend Pittsburgh: Women’s Edition. Sign up here and I will see you there!
I always wanted to start a company. And once I saw the power of the internet, I wanted to start an internet company. But I didn’t know if it was possible.
When I was in school, there weren’t any entrepreneurship classes or programs. Even in college, I don’t remember anyone talking about starting companies. I graduated from college in 2006, so Facebook was a platform that we used on campus. But the idea that we could start an internet company that could impact the world wasn’t talked about. Everyone was downloading music for free, and I think we all somehow thought that one day the endless supply of free music would go away. The authorities would take over. Just like we weren’t allowed to cite Wikipedia as a legitimate source in a school paper, nothing on the internet was legitimized yet.
After I graduated, I was completely lost. I spent all of my time and energy trying to graduate on time to avoid more school loans that I never thought about a career. Originally I went to college thinking I would go to law school immediately after graduating, but I already felt the overwhelming debt burden before graduating, and I read about the increasing number of law school grads without job opportunities. I also didn’t want to decide my professional fate at the age of twenty-two. I wanted to try my hand at starting a company. But I didn’t know if it was possible.
So I searched in bookstores for answers. Almost every day. One day I came across a book called “Founders at Work” by Jessica Livingston. I didn’t have much money, so I think I just read the book in the bookstore. I remember that she interviewed a lot of men about starting internet companies. I thought to myself, “that sounds like the exact thing I want to do with my life.” And I remember something in the book about starting a class or program in Boston for people that want to start internet companies. And I thought, “probably for MIT or Stanford grads.” Not for a girl from Pittsburgh. I put the book back on the shelf.
I went to networking events – every networking event I could find. Men in suits hit on me occasionally. I thought to myself, “I want to start a company, not find a date.” Again, I felt lost.
I spent so much time in bookstores that I ended up working for a bookstore chain for four years. During that time, I heard about a local accelerator program for internet companies called AlphaLab run by Innovation Works. That sounded really interesting. But I reminded myself that I had a Political Science degree and worked at a bookstore. I put the idea out of my head.
Around the time Borders books closed, I realized working for a bookstore chain was not a longterm solution to my aimless professional existence. I quit and started blogging about the power of the internet and social media. I applied to a few local startups, not knowing how to frame my “expertise” in the job interview. Some companies did not respond. Some companies interviewed me for customer service type roles. I cringe when I think about those interviews. I was so nervous, and I didn’t get the job, anywhere.
Next thing I knew, I was offered a job at an education company. I needed the money. The people seemed nice. I took the job. Many days I sat in my car at lunchtime reading tweets. I followed people in the startup world. I didn’t really talk to them, but I followed them. And one day I came across something called “Startup Weekend Pittsburgh.” I signed up immediately. I didn’t even have to think about it. Someone was putting on an event where you start companies, and I could sign up. HOLY S#&%, I thought to myself.
Since then, I’ve participated in four Startup Weekend Pittsburgh events. I was on the first place team at two events. I was on the second place team at one event. And I’m a proud AlphaLab alum.
I don’t know how to explain what Startup Weekend means to me. This is the first time I’m really sharing my experience on the internet, and obviously I’m simplifying it for the sake of brevity. But this post is to say that I don’t feel lost anymore. Startup Weekend showed me a way. It showed me that a girl from Pittsburgh with a Political Science degree and a confusing work history can start an internet company – several, actually.
It’s not to say that it’s easy, because it’s not. There are new challenges every day. But it’s possible. I want you to know that it’s possible.
If you buy a ticket to participate at Startup Weekend Pittsburgh Women, I will do everything in my power to instill in you the idea that anything is possible, and the Startup Weekend Pittsburgh community is here to help you make it happen. Please join us if you have a dream of starting a company.
Just under one month to go until StartupWeekend Civic! Over at Idea Foundry we’re always excited to meet new ideas and the people behind them. So when we heard that Startup Weekend Pittsburgh was holding a special edition focused solely on Civic Innovation, we got psyched!
Why are we so thrilled to be part of Startup Weekend Civic? Here at Idea Foundry through our Social Enterprise sector, we have an explicit focus on supporting businesses innovating to benefit the common good, for people, planet, and profit. We’re energized seeing so many Pittsburghers who are passionate about solving the big, systemic problems that real people in our region face. Because for us, that is what social enterprise is all about.
So what is civic innovation to us? How is it linked to social enterprise, and why is that link significant?
To us, civic innovation means enabling citizens to examine the core public sector issues we all experience everyday. It could be a lack of convenient public transportation that moves us quickly from home to job or school and back; rising rates of obesity and other life-style related illnesses; or the non-level playing field that exists for free access to information and knowledge resources: Civic Innovation is coming up with disruptive, game-changing solutions to those problems. This could mean developing more expansive and effective public transportation systems that include mass transit as well as bike and ride share infrastructure; creating new land use policies that lead to more green space where people can relax, work, and play; or introducing technology that promotes universal public wifi, which could lead to more engaged, empowered citizens.
Meanwhile, social enterprise as we define it at Idea Foundry is a completely new business model that drives social change and supports a healthy planet and healthy communities while generating profit and financial sustainability. These for-profit enterprises are developing and applying innovative, disruptive solutions that address huge social or environmental problems while creating profit and scalable economic opportunity. Whether addressing poor air or water quality, low access to fresh, healthy foods, or our ability to develop sustainable and renewable fuels, our social entrepreneurs are reinventing the principles of for-profit business to solve and prevent environmental and social problems in market-driven ways, while adding economic value to all involved stakeholders.
As a society, our ability to address these huge, systemic social and environmental challenges matters, because these issues affect the way we live with one another, interact with the environment around us, as well as our overall quality of life. A healthy, functioning city cares for people and empowers them to make changes. This can make everyone happier, healthier, and more prosperous as a whole. An unhealthy civic environment benefits only a small percentage disproportionately at the expense of many, creates unequal opportunity and wellbeing only for the few, and brings us all down as a result. This leads to a split society, and leaves people powerless to make meaningful changes.
The relative strength or weakness of our civic structure also affects much more than our individual livelihoods, it impacts the big picture. It affects the way we perform as a holistic society, and measures our relative strength and resilience as a city, region, individual community, or neighborhood. It determines our collective wellbeing, our global competiveness as an equitable, livable city, as well as our ability to attract new people to the region who can help propel our ever-evolving city forward.
For us at Idea Foundry, this links to the work we do to support for-profit social entrepreneurs, because social enterprise is all about making life better for the people who really need it. It’s about dreaming up scalable, impactful, and market-based solutions to the world’s biggest problems. It’s about opening up new markets by delivering products and services to people who have been left behind and introducing solutions where they’ve never been available. It’s tackling problems that don’t seem to have answers, at least ones that are adequate, and asking, how can I approach this differently, in a new and meaningful way? How can I create a business that is responsible and responsive to all stakeholders, from employees and shareholders, to suppliers, customers, and the natural environment, in a way that is financially viable and economically sustainable?
In our 13-year history, Idea Foundry has been dedicated to helping entrepreneurs solve problems that matter. From life-saving medical devices, to ground-breaking classroom technologies; from devices that protect and improve our environment, to commercializable advances in energy efficiency and renewables: we’re focused on helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative solutions to market.
InterSector, Idea Foundry’s social enterprise accelerator, funds and guides the creation of early stage social enterprise companies that develop scalable, efficient, and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems. Our companies are using big data to help law enforcement officers combat human trafficking; developing technologies to enable the blind and sight-impaired live better, more independent lives; turning trash into dignified jobs and products people love; engineering systems that run on biofuels and other renewable energy sources; promoting health and wellness for Pittsburghers; and designing software solutions to increase government efficiency and increase budgets while saving taxpayers money.
We are helping to generate the next wave of triple bottom line companies creating sustainable economic opportunity in Western Pennsylvania and measurable social change locally and globally, by helping social entrepreneurs evaluate market opportunities and assess their ability to innovate in the marketplace. We do this because we believe business for good is the future.
By providing support to entrepreneurs who have big ideas to change the world through business, we’re helping solve those critical social and environmental challenges that will define our success for the generations that come after us. And we know that as civic innovators, that is your goal too.
If you think you have a great solution to increase the common good, we can’t wait to see what you come up with in this year’s Startup Weekend Civic Pittsburgh, and to support you through the process after the weekend is over. Sign up today. We wish you the best of luck, and happy innovating!
By Nicole Muise-Kielkucki
Director, Social Enterprise
As one of the proud community leaders of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh, I believe that our events bring out the best in our community. We’re the ones who teach others to stand at the edge and leap head-on into the unknown. We encourage people to listen to our city’s problems, create solutions, and iterate them if they don’t work out.
However, I think we sometimes get a little caught up in the glory of the startup world and forget about the pressing needs that are surround us at all times. Pittsburgh’s certainly a city on the rise, but it’s a city with a lot of work to do as well.
All proceeds go entirely to 412 Food Rescue, a non-profit initiative to reuse unsellable food and convert them into healthy, delicious meals for our community’s hungry. The event will take place at The Livermore in East Liberty on July 25th from 7pm to midnight.
Here are 7 figures that motivate our entrepreneurial efforts to curb this very serious problem (facts and figures mostly extracted from Feeding America):
That’s the percent of people who live in Allegheny County who are “food insecure,” or are unable to feed themselves adequately. That seems small, but here’s another number.
The number of people who are food insecure in Allegheny County. You could almost fill Heinz Stadium three times over with that many people.
How many children are food insecure in Allegheny County. That’s greater than the capacity of PNC Park.
How much an average healthy meal costs in our region.
How much it would cost to eradicate hunger in Allegheny County every year.
The price of a ticket to the Summer Harvest. Using 412 Food Rescue’s efficient, ecological approach, each person who attends this will be able to feed a family of suffering from hunger for an entire week.
The number of people it takes to make a difference.
As an entrepreneur and a community organizer, I am convinced of the power of a single individual to make a huge difference in their community. This is not idealism – such impacts happen all the time. After all…
If you’d also like to sponsor or donate, please contact me at email@example.com. Thank you for reading!
Lee Ngo is a community leader based in Pittsburgh, PA.
Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh (#SWeduPGH / @SWeduPGH) came and went from February 20th to February 22nd. It was a sold-out emotional roller coaster for its 120+ participants, hailing from as far as Mississippi and ranging as young as nine years old.
I wrote previously that this event was a dream come true, and indeed it was. However, there were moments in this event that made me wonder…
Consider the following moments:
1. Duolingo’s Luis von Ahn basically walked down the street to come talk to us.
- Duolingo is the first educational app to win the coveted Apple App of the Year.
- The app remains completely free for users, yet Duolingo has raised a total of over $38M in capital to date.
- Over 20 million people are now using the app. There are more people are learning languages on Duolingo than in the U.S. Public Education System.
Prof. von Ahn also opened up about his struggles as an entrepreneurship – the nightmares of product, the perpetual campaign of “gamification,” and the immense complexity in providing a service for each language.
There’s nothing greater than when a local startup rock star maintains a sense of humility. Thank you, Prof. von Ahn!
2. That moment when Expii’s Po-Shen Loh made the entire crowd gasp in awe.
I know it seems silly that I compared myself to Steve Jobs when he first saw Steve Wozniak’s PC and operating system for the first time, but I hope you all understand that feeling now.
When Professor Loh showed us all “The Map” – that seemingly endless web of knowledge that continually expands as people actively contribute to Expii via “colossal collaboration” – the entire room was floored.
Prof. Loh is just one of many in a community of game changers, and the best part: they’re more excited to meet YOU. Expii is currently live and ready for you to contribute.
3. A mother and son competed AGAINST each other (and, somehow, both won)
I did not discover this until well into the competition, but participants Wesley and her son Porter joined different teams: Project Playground and The Wrinkled Brain Project. Throughout, there was nothing but love and respect – sometimes a rare sight at an intense competition like Startup Weekend.
Although Mom ended up placing first in the competition, Porter was the real star of the event. This Startup Weekend featured the first “Reaping” ever – a sacrifice of one participant to entertain the other participants and maintain social order.
However, when the moment of selection came, Porter volunteered as tribute.
He managed to vanquish a Koldiak with a Grimlug’s flurry of tornadoes and saved the day. (I don’t know what these words mean.)
Well done, Porter, and Wesley – way to be an awesome parent. Speaking of which:
4. We’re convinced Pittsburgh would crush a Startup Weekend Youth.
As a judging and coaching dynamic duo, Entrepreneuring Youth‘s proud alums Jesse and Joziah Council were the most poised (and well-dressed) gentlemen at the event.
Our Youth Choice Panel not only counted their votes faster than the main judges did (that was my bad), they also entertained the audience with their enthusiasm.
Lastly, who could forget that little girl who validated Penny Discovery’s MVP:
The youth have spoken – they want more entrepreneurship!
5. Startup Weekends are not traditionally done in sub-freezing temperatures. (We Pittsburgh folk don’t care.)
Some of the team made a snowman out in front. We decided to name it “Gusky” after Norton Gusky, a huge advocate in the Pittsburgh education community and the first person to buy a ticket at our event. Unfortunately, he fell ill and couldn’t attend, so we hope that this snowman was a fitting tribute.
6. Nobody else than Mandela Schumacher-Hodge could have facilitated SWeduPGH. Nobody.
Not only did we get the Global Director of Education Entrepreneurs, but we also got a woman who grew up in Pittsburgh’s East End and whose local legendary father Leroy Hodge fought relentlessly for the kind of future we hoped to represent at our event.
One of our judges, The Fred Rogers Center‘s President Bill Isler approached her after the winners were announced. Apparently, Mandela’s mom and Bill were previously commissioners of the Pittsburgh Dynamo Soccer League, where Mandela cultivated her enduring passion for the sport.
If you can name someone else who should have been with us that weekend… you don’t really exist, for you are a logical paradox. Welcome back home, Mandela!
7. The epic dance party you all missed (probably because you built a company in 54 hours)
No words necessary. Just a video of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh veteran Steve McCarthy showing off his salsa skills with facilitator Mandela:
(In case you can’t see it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7J60ElaTOM)
Convinced yet that there might be a higher power involved? Perhaps, but I’m more inclined to think it begins with this validated fact:
Education is a big deal in Pittsburgh, and entrepreneurship is a great way to stimulate its progress.
It was too easy to recruit the right organizers and volunteers – I already knew the most passionate, committed, trustworthy, and hardworking people in town.
We really didn’t have any trouble finding the right judges – we knew we wanted a teenage entrepreneur, three prominent women in educational technology, and a veteran in Pittsburgh school policy and philanthropy. Mission accomplished.
The greatest challenge with any Startup Weekend is outreach – despite our hard work, we never know until the last minute if people will come out to participate.
So, on behalf of everyone, I thank you for experiencing what I had experienced just a few years ago – this event is and always will be for you.
I also ask that you do the following:
- Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. – I usually post about weird stuff, especially why it’s okay for men to selfie.
- Have your projects follow me, too – keep me posted on your progress, and ask me how I can help your team.
- Ask me anything – if it’s Startup Weekend-related, email me here. If it’s anything else, email me here. I’m here to pay it forward, and as I’ve written before, I’m pretty hardcore about Startup Weekend.
- Keep going – stay in touch with your teams, talk to the others ones, reach out to our sister event in Raleigh – just promise me that you’ll keep going on this wild journey
- ORGANIZE – this will be the last time I organize an event for a while, for I have been plucked up by UP Global, the parent organization of Startup Weekend and many other excellent programming. It’s time for me to “pass the beaker,” and it’s time for you to step up.
(Apply here: startupweekend.org/organizer/application/)
After all, you’re now part of a big family, and we’re excited to have you.
Pretty surreal, isn’t it?
Lee Ngo is the Regional Manager of the US East Coast for UP Global and the lead organizer of Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh. Many of the photos in this post were provided generously by Ben Matzke Photos, all rights reserved.
The teams have formed and the heart of Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh is officially underway! If you’re looking for a little more information on the game plan for Saturday and some tips and insights, this post is for you.
As always, if you need anything, find an organizer or volunteer, or tweet at us: https://twitter.com/swedupgh. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #SWeduPGH! And don’t be shy! We’ve all done this before and know what you’re going through.
If you’re getting your team established on social media, be sure to let us know and we’ll spread the word. Also request any team needs on Twitter and we will blast it out through social.
Here are the teams so far. We know your name and idea will fluctuate throughout the weekend so let us know of updates!
- emrj: online platform to connect students with companies for job shadows
- The Wrinkled Brain Project: connect students with scientists to encourage deep thinking in science labs
- Imaginate: interactive storytelling to encourage kids to read
- Every Penny Counts: kids get rewarded with pennies for answering questions during class
- Field Trip: making botany more real-world interactive through teacher-directed initiatives
- Root Ed: connecting college mentors with high school students
- ClassR: collaboration platform for students in the same class working on projects together
- Lunchtime: summer lunches for kids through a non-profit food truck
- Pittsburgh Thriving Index: a dynamic real-time dashboard with multidimensional data that reframes education with access points for all
- E-lectern: build a better interface for online teaching
- The Project Playground: app to give teachers insights on student projects, straight from the kids
- Code Trail: helping young kids learn to code through gamification
ECS will open at 9am! Come grab breakfast in the cafeteria thanks to Square Cafe then get to work.
Hopefully you had a successful brain dump Friday evening so you can hit the ground running on Saturday. Be sure to do lots of research, keep the MVP model in mind and take advantage of the amazing mentors coming in who have volunteered their time. This is when you want to really consider your market and get validation.
Assign roles and tasks to help get everything done. Be agile– know it will be a rollercoaster but that’s ok. And most importantly, have fun!
Mentors will be in from 10am-5pm. For special requests, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips: prioritize what your team needs guidance on and spend as much time with those mentors.
- List out questions: Time is limited with mentors so make sure you use it wisely.
- Be humble and open-minded: Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know.
- Be upfront and direct: If you need to pass on a mentor to digest and implement information, let them know.
Adam Kelson– Partner, Saul Ewing LLP
Jesse Council (Youth Mentor)– CEO & Co-Founder, Shy-Way Essentials; National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge Finalist
Nikki Navta– CEO, Zulama
Nicole Muise-Kielkucki– Manager of Social Enterprise Initiatives, Idea Foundry
Dan Seitam– Partner & CxO, C-leveled
After lunch from Mad Mex, we’ll be doing a status report where you’ll update us on your progress and any needs you have. Remember, Startup Weekend is about community and collaboration. Teams helping each other out is highly encouraged!
Mentors will be here until 5 pm, and Saturday evening is when you’ll have to start considering how your pitch will go. Volunteers are here to help if this is new to you! We’ll also be sending around the judging criteria in an email to help guide you.
Win 10 is catering dinner and we’ll have an ice cream social from Dream Cream later in the evening. Things can get intense on Saturday but don’t forget to take an occasional break to clear your head and enjoy all the event has to offer.
The following is a guest post from Norton Gusky – Educational Technology Broker and education photo documentarian.
The Maker Space is about tinkering, building, creating, designing, but what’s the next step? According to Jerry Cozewith, the Executive Director of Entrepreneuring Youth (EY), a non-profit located in Pittsburgh, Pennsyvania, the next step is taking the creativity and innovation of the Maker Space into the world of student run-businesses.
One of the great success stories for EY is Shawn, a former Manchester Academic Charter School (MACS) student who started out as a shy young man who would not even look at you in the face. Shawn was a middle school student in the iOWN program, an entrepreneurial program coordinated by EY at MACS. Jerry tells the story about first meeting Shawn and his handshake was limp and his voice was almost inaudible. Today Shawn is a high school entrepreneur with his own bakery business. He had an interest in baking. EY gave him the supports and experiences to turn that interest into a passion that was not just about making food, but creating a system to have a business that turned a profit within two years. When you meet Shawn today he shakes your hand with a firm grip and tells you why you should purchase his pastries.
Jerry sees MACS as one of the best examples of how EY grows young people, taking them from where they are and giving them the confidence and chutzpuh to say, “Can you help me?” It’s that ability to realize that you need a mentor, a guide, that really separates the kids in EY from their peers. The talent to ask good questions leads to innovative solutions.
According to the Entrepreneuring Youth website: “We help young people start and operate businesses as a way to guide them toward their own path to success after high school. When young people run businesses of their own creation, they bloom with newfound confidence. They discover talents which were once hidden. They think of themselves as “owners” and “presidents.” Young people who become young entrepreneurs realize the value of creating (rather than waiting) for opportunities.”
According to one of the young entrepreneurs featured in a promotional video, EY gave her a voice. “… I could stand up before all of these people and say things that were on mind.”
Jerry focuses on the concept of “self-efficacy” as the key for success. It’s about empowering youth. It’s not just that kids learn the value of owning a business; it’s more about the growth of young men and women who have the tools and awareness that will make them successful wherever they travel or seek to make their imprint.
Today EY is creating success stories throughout the Pittsburgh region with a focus on the under-privileged, the under-served youth. Jerry shared a story about a recent event EY sponsored at the Oxford Center, a major commercial center in Downtown Pittsburgh. Initially there were only four parents signed up from the Hilltop project where EY partners with the YMCA. Jerry investigated and discovered that the parents did not have transportation and didn’t know how to travel to the Downtown destination. EY then rented a bus and over 75 adults came down from the “mountain” to see the world of Downtown youth commerce. EY empowered the parents to become supporters for their young entrepreneurs.
According to Jerry when you first looked at the display at Oxford Center display of student businesess it appeared to be a typical array of goods, but when you met the young people behind each business, you realized that there was something special happening. You knew that these young people had taken the first steps to success in the adult world. They knew how to communicate, how to sell themselves. They had confidence in themselves.
It’s the reason why we need more events like Startup Weekend EDU. We need to breed that entrepreneurial spirit where young people learn to network and pitch their ideas, to take risks, and learn by their initial mistakes and failures so they discern the value of the iterative process inherent in all “making” activities.
With so many projects happening, so much money being spent, and so little time, it seems important (for my personal clarity) to take a moment and try to summarize exactly what we are all building towards, or should be. It’s what I’m trying to build, some way or another, over the next 10 years. I want to describe this mythical unicorn in a single sentence. The mythical unicorn is: An open, decentralized platform on which communities of people can create, curate, and browse an expansive map of local learning opportunities and digital resources that, as they learn, form a personal archive of proven skills and experiences. Okay, that’s it. The following is a glossary where I do my favorite thing and parse the sentence.
When I say “open”, I refer as much to the process of building the unicorn as the final product itself. Yes, this platform needs to be open-sourced and fully accessible and built to be shared, but even more urgent is the need to build this collaboratively out in the open. If we are going to build this, we need to collaborate, not duplicate. Too much of the important work happening in this space is siloed or poorly documented. Resources are limited and the goal is huge.
I’m not quite sure how to best build this in a decentralized way, but I’m convinced of its necessity. A decentralized platform is more equitable, does not limit user agency, and is less subject to problematic issues of privacy and control, etc. See the other values of the indieweb for inspiration. I would love to hear ideas and start a discussion on how we map and curate the wealth of the world’s learning resources in a decentralized framework. Maybe the answer is some sort of hybrid in which resource data is held centrally, but available to a federation of regional hubs… These hubs consist of thousands of learners who each have their own private webspace where they are hosting their personal learning archive and sharing out as they see fit… …Like we all have our own digital bookshelves, except they are knowledge maps and they are all connected … !? Maybe? Lots to think about. My thoughts are weak in this area.
Okay, I lied. There are actually two unicorns. That’s right, two mythical creatures. And the second is actually more important: the real communities of people and places that actually use this platform and its resources. These learning communities exist already in our schools and workplaces around specific majors or careers, but they should increasingly form organically around locally important subjects and problems. Projects like City of Learning and others are building frameworks in which a learner’s path is not driven by the limitations of their schools, but by their interests. If we start to use the entire city (or region + internet) as our campus, we can begin to think of learning beyond single institutions. If this happens, we will have an exciting moment to consider what learning communities could look like in “the real world”, outside of the peer-driven, often monocultural communities of our schools. Thoreau says that “we are all schoolmasters and our schoolhouse is the universe.” What do learning communities look like if learning moves in this direction? Meetups on steroids?
Perhaps the hardest part of all of this is to curate all the resources; it’s what a lot of smart people have been talking about as the next Herculean task for us denizens of the internet. We’ve created all this stuff, now let’s sort it all out and map it into a beautiful and usable network of learning resources. Google’s Director of Technology, Craig Silverstein admits the limitations of current technology: “My guess is about 300 years until computers are as good as, say, your local reference library in doing search, but we can make slow and steady progress, and maybe one day we’ll get there.” We need today’s librarians not to work as functional administrators of content, but as creative curators who help define what is best and sort out the complex relationships of resources. They have to do the powerful acts that Google cannot and may never be fully able to do. Just as the dark age monks before them, we desperately need librarians to protect, curate and hold aloft worthwhile knowledge. In the face of the barbarian hoards they were necessary because of the dearth of texts. Today it is the opposite. We need librarians as lighthouses amidst the floods of available information.
The aggregate of this work done by librarians, content experts, and regular humans will be an expansive map that organizes all of the best learning resources and their relationships. Really, all of us have already been drafted into this work as curators and librarians. If the map could be made expansive enough, a 4th grader playing with legos who just came home from a field trip at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater could visualize every step along the way to mastery in the field of architecture. And they could start right then. This pre-requisite progress mapping helps to further drive home the importance of core skills like mathematics that, too often, feel disconnected from more direct, work-related pursuits. “Oh, so if I want to be an architect I need to master Trigonometry and Physics…and…” Rendering of Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X The magic of the “skill tree” is best captured and named in some of the most intricate video games. The Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X provides the player with a way to visualize a series of decisions for their development. Where should you start on the grid? Which direction should you go? If you choose a certain skill set, what areas are you forsaking? This sort of cost-benefit analysis that recognizes the opportunity cost implicit in all education is a powerful act that, while common in games, usually occurs with less intention and less tools in the development of real persons.
local and digital
On this map, there will be two primary types of content: local learning opportunities and digital resources. One exciting outcome of this would be the deconstructing of online courses. Instead of a self-contained silo of learning content, the “MOOC” could be broken apart into separate nodes of content with mapped relationships. The online “course” could become a specific pathway on the expansive map that is supported by an expert and a community of learners. Courses will fade into the background and function as a curatorial (and relational) layer on top of the great resources being created by experts. After all, we’ve always known that resources like Hack Design have always been better than anything on Coursera. The really successful “ed.tech” platform will be the one that recognizes that technology is inherently neutral and that, when it comes to engaging a learner, relationships and learning communities will always trump content distribution and teaching machines. The platform must do this by taking on the important, but very complex job of pulling together both the digital resources and the entire social structure of education: workshops, volunteering, mentors, games, apprenticeships, courses, meetups, etc. etc. etc.
Imagine you are in some magical library of the future browsing poetry books in the stacks. Imagine that, when in those same poetry “stacks”, you could see instantly, what “books” you had read, what poems you liked or wrote about, and a portfolio of your own poems that resulted from your study. The library becomes more than a reservoir of content, but a data and planning center for the development of your mind. Imagine if such a map existed in three (four? fifty?) dimensions and included all subjects, displaying the process of development and connections between nodes. Again, some nodes could be whole texts, while others could be short sections on “This is how you learn X”, or an in-person local workshop. Progress on a Khan Academy Knowledge Map Within this knowledge map, you will have the ability to plan courses of study, follow courses that others have crafted, or just learn everything within a certain content area. Perhaps most excitingly, long-time students will be able to look back at their progress over many years and see a serious portfolio of everything they have ever read, watched, created, and learned. Every assignment, quiz, and essay could be looked at individually, or in aggregate to give students a picture of their personal development thus far. If used to its fullest potential, a student would be able to see the lifelong progression of their talents in a snap-shot and the path they took to get there. They could then curate their personal portfolio and knowledge map and share it with the public as part of their CV or application for schools.
This, of course, brings us to just exactly how the public knows that your map contains proven skills and knowledge. The answer lies in some sort of data-rich external endorsement related to your learning experiences. This data-rich credential has, to date, most capably taken the form of digital badges. These badges can provide the data needed to help learners find their way to their next learning experience, to make their personal portfolio substantive, and to provide the credentials necessary for the public to trust and properly value that portfolio. thoughts? what’s your unicorn?