By ANDREW MOORE
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
First off, a young man named Jacob Adberstein pitched a new educational startup called Adaptive Mind.
“Our revenue system consists of having free and premium accounts. The premium accounts will have more space, be able to work offline, have more tools, and you can customize the site’s look,” said Adberstein. “We need your support to make our project a reality. We are looking for mentors who can help us with software development.. .. We also need your help for $8,000 that will be used for software tools and libraries, marketing, and legal matters.”
Adberstein is 14 years old.
He is just one of 26 high schoolers and middle schoolers participating in the VentureLab High School Startup Boot Camp at Geekdom. One of many VentureLab programs, the boot camp is designed to take students through every aspect of creating a startup. At the beginning of the camp, the students had two days to create business models or products. They then voted on the best four and spent the rest of the camp preparing their startups – and tangible products – for the first San Antonio High School Startup demo day.
“There is no pretending,” said High School Startup Director Nick Honegger. “They get the real life experience of starting a company from the brainstorming, to the marketing, to the launch, to asking investors for how much they need funding-wise.”
The students touched every aspect of startup creation, which also included making profiles, Kickstarter pages, and demo videos with scripts. The program was so hands on that many of the students are now equipped with the confidence to continue through life as entrepreneurs.
“We learned just a ton about everything that has to do with starting our own business. So that even if our ideas now don’t work, we would be able to, in the future, still start up another company,” said student Brenda Kirlin, 15, from Providence Catholic School.
She presented Shéri Sandale, which is manufacturing a new type of sandal with thicker soles for better comfort and interchangeable straps for added style options. The startup did 130 surveys of potential customers ages 13 to 30. They want to sell to both large department stores and individuals on their website. Shéri Sandale plans to sell their product in starter kits with one sole and two straps. For every kit sold, they will donate a kit to Seton Home – an organization that shelters and supports homeless teen mothers. They are asking for $5,000 in funding for advertising and manufacturing costs.
Each startup’s idea and business model was constantly critiqued by mentors. Similar to the TechStars Cloud program at Geekdom earlier this year, there was plenty of tough love for each group.
“We came, we gave our pitch, and they destroyed us,” said Adberstein from Jose M. Lopez Middle School. “Every day we came all happy, and left all sad.”
Adberstein persevered, however. He kept working alongside his brother and the rest of his team and still presented Adaptive Mind for the demo day.
Adaptive Mind is a website that students can use to collect and organize text, photos, and video into notebooks and guides to help themselves and their peers learn more efficiently. It is built for both computers and mobile devices and supports forums where users can answer others questions and share information. The website even has a virtual assistant named Intelar which can help students search databases connected to the site.
Students came to the program with varying skill levels. For G.W. Brackenridge High School graduate Maletina Sanchez, 18, the experience was eye-opening.
“At first I was a little hesitant because I didn’t know much about business and marketing. But as days progressed and became a week and two weeks, I experienced something I have never experienced. I learned so much,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez and home schooled student Eliana Swart, 14, were the two-person team behind the headphone making startup More 4 A Beat. More 4 A Beat’s headphones are designed to stand out in the same way as mobile phone covers — giving the user a unique design and style. The team used a 3D printer to manufacture a prototype of the product and are looking for $2,000 to start marketing and manufacturing. The startup hopes to partner with eBay Inc. and Etsy.com.
Not all students were new to the startup process, however. Ronald Reagan High School Senior Canzhi Ye is an iOS developer and the co-founder of San Antonio startup Rectangle. The program sill helped Ye sharpen his skills in a variety of areas.
“In terms of entrepreneurship I learned a lot such as doing market research, asking for money, that kind of stuff,” said Ye. “Pitching was kind of hard in the beginning, but we practiced every day so eventually we got much better at it.”
Ye’s team created Fresh Finds – an app that promotes shopping at farmers markets by giving users access to deals and discounts once they arrive at the market. When the team did their market research, 83 percent of iPhone users said they would be interested in using the app. Fresh Finds plans to make revenue by charging farmers to list deals and by using paid and ad-based forms of their app. They are currently looking for $5,000 to expand their company.
Founded in January 2012 by Cristal Glangchai, Venturelab is an evolution of a previous Geekdom company named ESTEAM which focused on STEM education. The educational nonprofit organization has multiple programs designed to fill gaps in the current education system and empower youth entrepreneurs. VentureLab adopted and modified the High School Startup program, originally created by Engineer Jeremy Guillory, which debuted last year at Anderson High School in Austin.
The first San Antonio High School Startup bootcamp was sponsored by Rackspace, Geekdom, and Akimbo. Mentors for the program included Nick Longo, Pat Condon, Mario Ochoa, Winslow Swart, Richard Ortega, and Greg Cerveny. According to Condon, programs such as the boot camp play a crucial role in motivating young people to consider entrepreneurship in the future.
“If a parent or a family friend was an entrepreneur, that’s a number one indicator whether somebody — a young person — will become one. To me not everyone has a parent that is an entrepreneur and this is one of the ways to expose young people early in life into creating something of their own,” said Condon.