Needle stick injuries, traffic congestion and third world poverty are not typical conversation topics for Tri-Valley area teens -- unless you're one of the 50 high school students who got a crash course in real world problems at the Junior Achievement Social Innovation Camp on April 3.
Held at Bishop Ranch in San Ramon, students from 17 East Bay high schools explored what it means to be a social entrepreneur by finding creative solutions to societal ills. Groups of students, many of whom didn't know each other before the competition, brainstormed to develop a presentation on business solutions, products, or services.
"Bringing these students together and challenging them to open their minds to the range of issues our society contends with is a dynamic way to introduce them to real-world business environments and the skills they need to develop to be successful in the 21st century marketplace," said Junior Achievement of Northern California President, Linda McCracken.
The first event of its kind in the East Bay, students from California, Del Amigo Valley Christian and other high schools began the day with ice-breaking activities designed to encourage creativity and resourcefulness. Teams were given paper and instructed to build a tower and, hopefully, learn their teammates' strengths.
"We're all here because we have that idea and because we're driven we all work together to come up with better ideas. No one is just sitting there doing no work," said California High senior Ali Cox. "None of us knew each other before, but we're all working together really well and it's actually kind of surprising. It's a good crop."
Ali's group worked to develop a solution to hunger issues and food waste from grocery stores and coffee shops. Grocery stores end up throwing away 40 percent of their goods, Ali noted, adding that if homeless or hungry people had access to a well-cooked meal they may have more energy to make a difference.
"(Being from) different schools obviously gives you input on how they've developed. Different schools have different ways of thinking," said Dougherty Valley High junior Shreyas Kalyan. "Dougherty Valley is very studious, people crack open books and study at lunch time. It's very different from what I hear back from my group."
All students were mentored by local business professionals, community members and educators who provided constructive criticism and insight into the business world. Summit Financial's Michael Lahl said he was mentored as a burgeoning businessman and wanted to keep the tradition alive.
At the end of a long day of idea generation, strategic development, and mentoring, the student teams presented business plans to judges who scored them on creativity, critical thinking and business viability. After a series of semi-finals, select teams proceeded to the final round where final winners received certificates and cash scholarships of up to $300 per student.
"We're looking for how they engage each of their team members. We want to make sure that all the kids have the experience to present in front of the judges," McCracken said, adding that students were judged on time management and creativity. "We want to simulate what they learn in the business world.. when you have an idea it's how you sell that idea, whether it's to a venture capitalist or to your boss or to a customer."
First place was awarded to "OneTime Needle," a retractable needle designed to protect healthcare workers and patients against accidental needle sticks and disease transmission. Members of the winning team were Michael DiDio (Cal High), Jeff Diedenhofen (Monte Vista), Dominique Weaver (Amador High School, Pleasanton) and Devin Goins(Liberty High School, Antioch).
The second place prize, $200 per student, was given the group who developed SWIFT, a service designed to promote carpooling and reduce congestion. The project was created by Paul Furer (Bentley High School, Lafayette), Devin Goins (Liberty High), Stephanie Liu (Monte Vista) and
Michelle Xue (Cal).
Seeds that Feed, a sunflower growing program designed to promote nutrition and eradicate hunger in developing countries, took the third place prize. Conceived by Bobby Magel (Monte Vista), Roshan Rama (Dougherty Valley High) and Raksha Shenoy (Washington High School, Fremont), each student won $100.
"Backbone Bank," a microloan bank for mothers in developing counties, won fourth place and $50 per student. Team members were Danielle Chun (Cal High), Matthew Maxwell (San Ramon Valley High) and John Warque (Dougherty Valley).
"They're learning sales and presentation, they're learning collaboration and teamwork," McCracken noted."This is the best thing these kids can do; they've got to understand the relationship between education, what they're learning in school and their future success in their careers and ability to generate income for themselves."