REDMOND, Wash. — People are spending hours each week commuting to work, often via bus, so why not turn that into workout time? Just retrofit buses with exercise equipment like stationary bikes and rowing machines, with seatbelts, and give commuters a new way to multitask.
That concept, dubbed “Work to Work,” was one of the startup business ideas floated this weekend by budding teen entrepreneurs during the Innovate ’17 startup bootcamp and pitch contest, and it seemed like a great concept, in theory … until the panel of judges started asking questions. What about safety, insurance, and the downsides of arriving at work all sweaty? And will companies really deploy multiple shuttle buses for regular and exercising commuters?
No, coming up with a startup idea isn’t easy, but as dozens of teens learned over the span of two weekends, it can be exciting, rewarding and a lot of fun.
The first-time event, organized by teens for teens, exposed students to insights from experienced entrepreneurs, technology leaders and investors. Sessions covered topics including product-market fit, valuation and funding, revenue/expense models, intellectual property and patents, and more.
About 40 teens, ranging in age from 13 to 17 years old, attended the event, which was held on two Saturdays, two weeks apart, on the Microsoft campus.
“I’ve been lucky enough to get so much learning from a lot of these leaders in starting my own startup,” explained Innovate ’17 organizer Atul Ajoy, a 10th grader at Redmond High School, who founded a startup to apply AI and blockchain to school fundraising. “I realized that a lot of people don’t get that same experience, so I wanted to run a non-profit event that would help more teenagers in the Seattle area learn more about entrepreneurship, business, startups, stuff like that.”
The adults in attendance, all of whom had serious business and tech credentials of their own, walked away impressed.
“In a previous era, there were certain prescribed ages at which you were supposed to try certain things. But today it’s all kind of mushing together,” said Abe Pachikara, a father and longtime Microsoft manager who volunteered at the event. He cited the traditional path of attending college and getting a job, then trying a startup sometime later in life. Nowadays, kids are building entrepreneurial skills and thinking about startups at all ages. “What you see here is, it really works well.”
The runner-up in the pitch contest was a team called ModClaw, with a concept for athletic shoes with interchangeable cleats and spikes.
The winner of the pitch contest was a team called rethInk, which pitched the idea of a pen for making temporary tattoos using natural and organic ink.
“One day I was sitting in English, and I saw one of my friends just doodling on her arm, and I just thought of the idea of ink that wouldn’t be toxic for your skin,” explained one of the members of team rethInk, Agnes Shan, a 10th grader at Interlake High School in Bellevue, Wash.
Speakers and mentors included Acumatica CEO Jon Roskill; Founders Co-op managing partner Andy Sack; Moz co-founder and Outline Venture Group fund manager Gillian Muessig; Madrona Venture Group managing partner Soma Somasegar; and many others from the Seattle region’s technology and startup community. (GeekWire was a media sponsor, and I gave a talk on the region’s technology and startup ecosystem as part of the event.)
During an initial day of sessions on Nov. 18, the students formed startup teams. They then reconvened this Saturday, Dec. 2, to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges: Roskill; Muessig; Megan Gaiser, former HER Interactive CEO; Angela Lin, a senior at Seattle Preparatory School who co-organized the youth track at Seattle Startup Week; and angel investor Javier Soto. Two teams and four individuals won prizes that included Echo Dots from sponsor Amazon, Satya Nadella’s book “Hit Refresh” from sponsor Microsoft, and cash prizes from sponsor Wells Fargo.
Proceeds from the event benefitted YouthForce, a program within the Boys & Girls Clubs of King County focused on teen internships and employability. Some participants in the YouthForce program also took part in the event.
Here are the individual and team winners from the pitch contest.
- Agnes Shan, 10th grade, Interlake High School
- Aditi Ajoy, 7th grade, Evergreen Middle School
- Shree Balasubramaniyan, 8th grade, Evergreen Middle School
- Aditya Khowal, 8th grade, Rose Hill Middle School
- Jason Xu, 10th grade, Interlake High School
- Paul Pachikara, 10th grade, Interlake High School
- Shivank Dutt, 8th grade, Evergreen Middle School
- Siddhartha Pachikara, 8th grade, Rose Hill Middle School
Individual Award Winners
- Agnes Shan, 10th grade, Interlake High School, rethInk
- Saivi Madan, 9th grade, Newport High School, NoteTap, interactive musical instruction
- Shivank Dutt, 8th grade, Evergreen Middle School, ModClaw
- Aaryea Naik, 10th grade, Skyline High School, Neptune Technologies, virtual reality technology