The MicroInterns: Middle-Schoolers Visit TechStars, Get a Lesson in Startup Life
Although we talk a lot about preparing students to face the needs of the global economy, it’s not clear we’re doing enough to teach kids about entrepreneurship and to expose them to careers that involve building a company – not just working for one. When we do talk about entrepreneurship and education, it’s often in terms of college-age, not younger students.
If you need convincing that it’s never toosoon to start exposing students to entrrpreneurship, then I recommend you meet the MicroInterns.
They’re a group of middle-schoolers from Sts. Philip and James School in St. James, New York. With their technology teacher George Haines, the MicroInterns took a trip to the Big Apple two weeks ago for the first of what will hopefully be a series of hands-on learning experiences about entrepreneurship and startup life. There, they spent the day at TechStars’ newly-opened New York City office.
That visit was significant as it was a blog post by TechStars founder and CEO David Cohen last year that inspired Haines to approach the accelerator about the possibility of bringing a group of seventh and eighth-graders to its offices, so these students could see firsthand what it was like to build a tech product – and a tech company.
Lessons Learned at TechStars
I had the opportunity to Skype with six of the kids who went on the field trip and to hear their thoughts on the experience. They told me about their day: hearing from David Cohen, meeting the companies currently in the accelerator program, and then working alongside one of those companies for the day. They all performed different tasks for the startups: proofreading websites, building content, brainstorming names, testing interfaces.
Having spent just one day with the TechStars’ startups, the students were able to give pretty convincing elevator speeches about what these companies were working on. They were also able to talk about the importance of not having just good ideas, but of building strong teams of smart people. The overall assessment from the MicroInterns: launching a startup would be fun, and it’s something they said they’d consider doing in the future.
“To be an entrepreneur,” says seventh-grader Mike DeStefano, “it’s a lot of hard work but you get to build your ideas along the way, little by little, and make something that people want.”
“The middle schoolers were a complete delight,” Jason Baptiste, co-founder of OnSwipe, told me. “They were brilliant and at one point, we almost thought they might concoct a plan to takeover OnSwipe itself. Having them come by and better understand entrepreneurship is a true testament to TechStars’ impact on the world.”
Encouraging Future Entrepreneurs
That impact on potential future entrepreneurs is important. “Most kids go through middle school, high school, and even college without ever really being exposed to entrepreneurship. That’s a huge disservice to our country and to these kids,” says David Cohen. “If we can help fix that one kid at a time, we’re happy to try. Hopefully this will inspire others to do the same. It’s now my goal to try to institutionalize this across our programs in Boulder, Seattle, New York, and Boston, as well as to suggest it to the 20 other seed accelerator programs in the TechStars Network.”
Haines says he plans to expand the MicroInterns program too. The group’s next field trip will be to work with Yodle, and Haines is on the lookout for other New York companies interested in hosting an outing. Having had a chance to chat with the MicroInterns, I’d definitely encourage any company to open their doors.
Photo credits: George Haines
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