High School Startup Inspires Student Entrepreneurs

Team Giraffe Stand: Scott Davidson, Tina Bao, Jack Thoene and Advaith Anand
Photo by Laura Cole

At Anderson High School in Austin, 20 teenagers gathered Sunday for the final day of High School Startup.
They worked from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. putting together Kickstarter campaigns, shooting videos, working on computer aided design software and tinkering with product prototypes.
In three weekends, four teams built and launched companies and products.
This isn’t a typical summer camp. The entire focus of the program is to build products people want, said Jeremy Guillory, its organizer. He also cofounded 3 Day Startup Weekend at the University of Texas.
“One of our questions was what can students accomplish in three weekends” Guillory said. It turns out they can do a lot.
One team built a gearbox for robots called a Switchbox. Another made a bed mount for an iPad called a Giraffe Stand. And two other teams created mobile phone apps.
Each student paid $385 to participate in the program, sponsored by Rackspace and Anderson High School. Pat Condon, one of the founders of Rackspace and Jason Seats, the founder of SliceHost and managing director of the TechStars Cloud, served as advisors and mentors. The program aims to turn kids into makers.
“We believe that kids should be building robots and rockets and not taking standardized tests,” said Guillory, who has a masters degree in mechanical engineering from UT.

Jeremy Guillory, standing, helps students participating in the High School Startup program

The kids also learned that some of the best products are developed to solve nagging problems.
Tina Bao’s arms got tired while she tried to use her iPad in bed.
Bao’s problem became her team’s product. For the last three weekends, Bao, 17, a graduate of TAMS in Denton, and her team have been refining the idea and building it into a project.
“We’ve worked outside the weekend too,” said Advaith Anand, 15, and a junior in the LASA magnet program at Lyndon B. Johnson High School. Their other teammates include Scott Davidson of Round Rock High School and Jack Thoene of Anderson High School.
The team interviewed potential customers at The Domain and at Barton Creek Mall. They even took their prototype to Macy’s and tried it out on a bed and asked customers to use it and give them feedback.
“A lot of iPad owners had this problem,” Bao said.
The stand has a bed mount with a giant arm that attaches to an iPad and allows a person to use their iPad hands-free in bed.
At Lowe’s, they bought the hardware to create the prototype. They plan to raise $10,000 through Kickstarter to make 200 Giraffe Stands, which will sell for $40 to $100, depending on options.
Laura Cole, a senior at the University of Texas earning a design degree, helped the teams with iPhone mockups, logos, photography and website designs. She was one of ten mentors who volunteered to help the students.
“It’s been fun to see the ideas come to life,” Cole said. “I think they’re awesome.”

John Sperry, one of the program’s organizers and an engineering instructor at Anderson High School, stands beside his school’s 3-D printer.

John Sperry, one of the program’s organizers and an engineering instructor at Anderson High School, wants to inspire kids to get into science, technology, engineering and math fields. But he also wants them to consider entrepreneurship.
“I don’t want to solely produce engineers and programmers to work for big companies,” Sperry said. “I’m thrilled with the idea of entrepreneurs making something. That’s something that inspires a lot of students.”
Business is lacking in school, Sperry said. Somewhere the excitement is lost, he said.
“We need more hands on types of activities that make kids want to show up at 9 a.m. on a Saturday or Sunday,” he said.
In addition to the traditional lathes, drill presses and grinders, Sperry’s shop has computers, design software and a 3-D printer for rapid prototyping.

Mo Freid, a junior at Anderson High School, holds the prototype for Switchbox, a gearbox for robots.

Mo Freid, a junior at Anderson High School, led a team, which created the Switchbox, a gearbox for a competition robot. They plan to produce 120 kits and sell them through a Kickstarter campaign. They used CAD software to design the product and the 3-D Printer to produce all the components for the Switchbox. His team competes in the FIRST Robotics Competition every year.
Charlie Manion, a graduate student at the University of Texas studying mechanical engineering, has served as a mentor to the teams for all three weekends.
“I thought it would be cool,” Manion said. “It’s also fun. We have Nerf gun battles.”
He helps them tweak their CAD models and make it look and work better.
“High School Startup is largely a student driven process,” Freid said. “Whenever any of the students need help we just ask one of the mentors. Most of them have helped us throughout this entire process.”
By the end of the program, the teams had real products and experience in bringing them to market. And perhaps some of the students will go on to become the next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Pat Condon or Jason Seats and change the world.
“I want to be an entrepreneur,” Anand said. “A lot of our team shares that goal.”

Comments

  1. Jeremy Guillory is my hero.

  2. This was one of the coolest stories I’ve covered in a long time. I’m totally inspired by these young people and their ideas. They are quite impressive. The mentors and program organizers Jeremy Guillory and John Sperry are indeed heroes.

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