The tech industry is booming. Its innovations and breakthroughs, both small and large, permeate most every aspect of our lives. To give us a sense of this, consider that every 60 seconds the following occurs1:
- $219 million of transactions are made through PayPal
- 695,000 searches are performed through Google
- 370,000 minutes of voice calls are made through Skype
- 20,000 new posts are made on Tumblr
- 13,000 hours of music are streamed through Pandora
- 70 domain names are registered
For parents and educators, the rapidly developing world of technology is enough to make one's head spin. It's difficult enough to stay current with the latest and greatest gadgets; it's much more difficult to teach young people skills and capacities that will enable them to take advantage of new trends in technology. However, for the younger generation, learning how technology works and finding a business niche is the gold rush of their time.
Here at the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), we have always tried to pioneer the integration of entrepreneurship and technology in under resourced schools. In 2000, Microsoft and NFTE co-developed Biztech, the first online learning platform for young people to learn about entrepreneurship. The platform's second iteration, Biztech 2.0, was named one of the top ten educational sites for kids in 2001. While Biztech was successful as an online learning platform, it was not until recently that NFTE was able to develop an intensive, in-person course for high school students to learn about the nexus of technology and entrepreneurship. This program is NYC Generation Tech.
NYC Generation Tech, or "GenTech," seeks to educate and inspire high school students from low-income communities to pursue careers in entrepreneurship and technology by providing hands-on learning experiences and mentorship opportunities. The program, piloted during the summer and fall of 2012, was created through a partnership between NFTE's New York Metro program office and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and received financial support from Microsoft, the Verizon Foundation, Durst Family Foundation, and the Tides Foundation.
GenTech kicked off in early August with a two week intensive "tech-entrepreneurship bootcamp" held at Long Island University's Brooklyn Campus. Each day from 9:00-5:00, the program's 28 students were immersed in an experiential curriculum that featured hands-on learning activities, guest speakers from all corners of the tech sector, and field trips to places like General Assembly and MakerBot.
At the end of the bootcamp's first week, each student pitched an original idea for a mobile app that improved the quality of education or city life for NYC students. After hearing their peers' pitches, students organically formed into six teams and were charged with the tall task of creating a mobile app prototype using MIT's App Inventor platform, and a business plan and pitch deck to support their digital creations. These final deliverables, to be created during the second half of the bootcamp and over the course of nine follow-up sessions during the fall, would be used to compete in a pitch competition in mid-December.
I spent about 35 hours at the bootcamp -- including a full eight hours on my birthday -- to learn about NYC's tech startup scene. Observing the program, led by NFTE NY Metro's charismatic Program Director Jordan Runge, was well worth my time. Naturally gifted at inspiring others, Jordan created a palpable, contagious energy in the classroom. At GenTech's end of program event in December, he received a standing ovation for several minutes -- no one in the room was sitting. From a small town in Indiana, he excelled in school, graduating at the top of his class with a 4.0, and went to Notre Dame. After graduating cum laude with a double-major in Political Science and Peace Studies, he joined Teach for America and spent three years teaching at a middle school in the Bronx. Looking for a way to have scale the impact he was able to make in the classroom, Jordan joined NFTE three years ago and distinguished himself as a motivator of students and teachers alike, particularly as a 'teacher of teachers.'
During the bootcamp, Jordan team taught with Ron Summers, one of the elite young NFTE teachers that we have been so blessed with this past decade. Ron's command of technology, educational strategy and his rapport with kids was deep. He had taught both of my nieces -- Nina and Siena -- in entrepreneurial summer camps, and they had said he was one of the best teachers they had ever had.
My favorite experience was learning about customer lifetime value versus customer acquisition costs which was presented clearly and helped me think of more advanced ways to teach the economics of one unit and other topics that I think are important for young people to learn.
I spoke to one of the students, Harry Trustman of Bookmark'd. "Did this help you, Harry?" I asked. "I learned so much, Mr. Mariotti, that I cannot even begin to explain it!" I talked to Harry's mom later in the day, and she said that the program had changed her son's life by making him more outgoing and confident. That night, while at my birthday dinner, one of my friends who is an expert on technology paid me the highest compliment I've ever received from him: "Wow, Steve!" he exclaimed, "You have really learned a lot about the latest thinking in technology!"
As summer turned to fall, each of GenTech's six student teams was matched with two "Tech Mentors," volunteers from the city's tech sector. During the fall's nine follow-up sessions, each held at a different tech office space throughout the city, students gained real world insights from presentations created by the host company. Students then worked with their mentors to develop their app prototype and supporting materials.
GenTech's pilot phase culminated on December 18th with "GenTech Demo Night," held at NASDAQ's MarketSite overlooking Times Square. I sat in next to our CEO, Amy Rosen, as each of the program's six teams demoed their completed mobile app and pitched their business idea to full house and an esteemed panel of six judges that featured David Karp, CEO of Tumblr, and Brian Cohen, Chairman of New York Angels. The competition's stakes: a first place prize of $5,000 and lunch with Andy Weissman, Partner at Union Square Ventures.
When NFTE was founded in 1987, the idea of teaching young people the principles of entrepreneurship alongside other core subjects like Math and English was revolutionary. Twenty-five years later, I'm proud to say that, as a result of programs like GenTech, NFTE continues to be a thought leader in youth entrepreneurship education.
Congratulations to team SkooBrik! From left: Steffany Ceron, Julie Chan (NYCEDC), Eugene Joseph (Tech Mentor), Altaf Lakhi, Guy Fruda (Tech Mentor), Deven Orie, Ryan Hassan, David Karp (Tumblr), Ashley Bustamante
GenTech students at MakerBot Industries.
Students from team Orgster work on their app design with the help of their Tech Mentor at NYU Poly's Varick Street Incubator. From left: Charles Douglas-Osborn (Tech Mentor), Richard Lopez, Mona Barry
Students from team BeYOUtiful work logo designs with instructor Ron Summers. From left: Mariah Sierra, Katherinne Guevara, Ron Summers (Instructor)
Jordan Runge, Program Director, NFTE New York Metro
1 These statistics are over two years old -- imagine how much great these figures would be today!