Every year for the past three years, Sponsr.Us has hosted a free one-day entrepreneurship event for high school students, which we call Sponsr.Us Ignite. The event introduces high school students to the skills they need to be successful entrepreneurs and leaders within their communities. Each of these past events has been held at Harvard University in Boston, MA, and they have all been great successes, inspiring hundreds of students.
But this year, we also hosted our first Ignite outside of Boston. This Ignite was held in Pittsburgh, PA on the Carnegie Mellon University campus, and attracted students from the greater Pittsburgh area. The students got to hear and learn from various entrepreneurial leaders from the Pittsburgh community such as CEOs of startups and directors of community involvement initiatives. By the end, the students were able to use what they had learned throughout the day in order to identify problems in their own communities and to then formulate potential solutions.
The day started off with a keynote panel consisting of Corinne Clinch (CEO of Rorus), Kelsey Halling (Director of Impact at Thread), Brian Gaudio (CEO of Module), Nesra Yannier (CEO of NoRILLA), and Ray Abel (CEO of Bansen Labs). The students got to hear a wide variety of perspectives from these young startup founders, and the discussion-style keynote event ranged from talking about various types of companies to learning about the resources that the panelists had found to be the most useful in their journeys.
The students then moved on to the workshops, in which the workshop speakers taught the students concrete skills that would be useful for any entrepreneurial endeavors.
First up was Scott Wolovich, Executive Director of New Sun Rising, a Pittsburgh-based social impact incubator and accelerator. Scott talked about “walking the walk,” or what it means to lead a company and the skills that are involved. Students broke into groups and talked through various situations, answering questions posed by Scott to simulate decision making in leadership positions. The entire session was engaging on a deeply personal basis and definitely made for a great workshop.
The second workshop speaker was Colman Wolfson, Business Development Manager at Innovation Works, the parent company of AlphaLab (a top 10 startup accelerator). Colman’s session countered the contemplative pace of the first workshop with a high-energy pitch competition, which had the entire room of participants formulating and practicing their pitches for their newly thought-of ideas. Colman first started out with going over the elements of pitching your idea, something that entrepreneurs have to do on a frequent basis. Pairs of students were then given a randomly created name for a startup, and the students then had to create a pitch based on what they thought their startup would do. The quality of the pitches was definitely very high, especially considering how little time the students had to formulate everything. The pitches ranged from Portable Trash Drums to Uber for Beauty Services, and this workshop turned out to be very fun and education.
For the final event of the day, we ran an ideation session where we broke students up into small groups. Each group then identified a problem in their communities, and then using what they learned throughout the day, they came up with a proposed solution to address the problem. After an hour of work through a variety of activities to better understand problem and solution, the students presented their ideas to everyone, and the results were truly impressive. One group presented solutions to alleviating the pressures of gentrification that their neighborhood faced, and another group presented their troubles with underfunding of the arts in their schools along with their solution.
Overall, the event turned out to be a great success, especially for our first time in a new location. In our post-event survey, every single participant agreed with the statement that they learned something today as well as that they were walking away with an experience that they would want to share with others.
We also want to thank our sponsors, Qualcomm for their generous monetary donation, as well as the East End Food Co-op for their food donation. We couldn’t have hosted the event without them!