Florida International University was the site of some incredible magic as Startup Weekend EDU saw one of its most diverse group of people come together to learn and practice critical entrepreneurship skills in order to take ideas from concept to creation in less than 54 hours! It could not be more fitting that Miami, Florida also known as the Magic City was home to a magical experience for a diverse group of aspiring entrepreneurs that included: students from elementary, middle, and high school; university students; university professors; K-12 teachers; parents; ex-convicts; developers; entrepreneurs; and local professionals. The youngest participants at this event were 8 years old and they both presented with their respective teams!
Startup Weekend EDU is a 2.5 day event whereby educators, developers, designers, and entrepreneurs come together to pitch ideas to solve problems in education and form teams around the selected ideas. Teams then spend the weekend taking these ideas from concept to creation, culminating into a final presentation to a panel of all-star judges from the community. Judges assess pitches based on clearly defined problem statement, prototype design, validation of problem and prototype, and finally, the business model. This theme was critical for a region that is home to some of the largest school districts going through difficult challenges.
Having facilitated over 16 events around the country, I thought I had seen it all. However, nothing could have prepared me for this incredibly diverse group of people and all of the challenges and possibilities that would manifest over the weekend. To be honest, I was concerned about whether the event could be a success and if everyone would figure out how to work well together quickly enough to deliver a final presentation by Sunday evening to a panel of all-star judges from the Miami community.
On opening night, participants have the opportunity to pitch ideas that eventually serve as the context for work throughout the weekend. The youngest person to pitch was a 6th grader from a local school and the oldest was a gentlemen in his 60’s. After 30+ pitches, rounds of voting and team formation, we had 8 teams. On one side of the room we had an 8th grader, leading a team of 5 people that included a university professor, on a quest to start a company that could customize, build, and deliver personally designed eyeglass frames to match any outfit or mood. On the other side we had a team comprised of a middle school student, a high school senior, a local entrepreneur, led by two former convicts who pitched an idea to deliver high quality education into prisons.
On Saturday morning when all of the teams began their work for the weekend, I sat down with a young man from an underserved community and school whose idea was selected Friday night. His team had not yet arrived so I sat down to have breakfast with him and he told me about his idea. His goal was to reinvent the grading system to reflect student growth and development instead of simply an average of periodic assessments. He believed that how a student’s grade changes is a more valuable indicator of learning than an average of test scores. His passion moved me and as the weekend went on, I had the incredible pleasure of watching this young man open up and become a confident leader on his team. On Sunday afternoon, my co-facilitator, Paula Celestino, and I listened to his team’s practice presentation; when he spoke, he left us speechless. He did not speak from notes or slides, he did something more powerful, he spoke from his heart.
His team would not go on to place, however, the judges were so moved by this young man’s passion and the potential game-changing impact of his idea that they asked to create the Education Impact award for this team. The team that would go on to place first was the team led by an ex-convict as they effectively built a case for the need to solve this problem and how their solution prototype could begin to address the problem right away. This weekend was nothing short of magical. To watch people from all walks of life come together to work on teams, respect each other, listen to each other, work collaboratively, and bond was nothing short of magical. I could not have had the pleasure of facilitating a better event that weekend and I will always remember Miami as the Magic City.