The statistics are startling.
For the 20 year period between 1989-2009, high school graduation rates for black males in California averaged a paltry 47%. Data on graduation rates for the last five years is sparse, but for California students taking the ACT in 2013 (and perhaps more likely to graduate HS), 79% of black males and 74% of Hispanic males failed to meet ACT-defined benchmarks for college and career readiness.
Policymakers will likely spend the next 20 years pondering the root cause of these numbers, but in startup parlance, the state of K-12 education for minority males is what you’d call a validated problem.
This problem -- alongside parallel tracks in health, restorative justice, gaming, and sustainability -- was the focus of StartupWeekend Oakland, a finger-blistering 54 hours held at Oakland’s Impact Hub from February 7-9th.
StartupWeekend, which started in Boulder in 2007, has held 1000+ events in 400+ cities around the globe -- with at least 10 of those happening in San Francisco or San Jose -- before coming to Oakland.
The significance of bringing talented developers, designers, and business leaders together with students is hard to overstate. Oakland youth, though just across the bay from Silicon Valley legend, are usually an afterthought to the rockstar charter and independent schools that innovative edupreneurs plie for pilot experiments and user feedback.
Here are a few observations gathered while mentoring three of roughly twenty young, minority “trailblazers” who competed alongside and against seasoned developers and designers.
Get a full recap, 140 characters at a time, by grokking #swobma.
Day 1: The Art of the Pitch
What: Friday evening saw over 100 enthusiastic souls brave the drought-busting Bay Area rain showers to pitch or listen to nearly 30 ideas.
Who: Julian Bryant, Global Facilitator for Startup Weekend, laid out the blueprint for getting 100+ people to practice the art of pitching in less than 45 minutes. The evidence of pedagogical prowess? Here’s a 7 yr-old on the clock.
Wow: Five of the fourteen ideas that gained enough traction to form a team around were pitched by trailblazers.
Day 2: "Code or be coded"
What: Saturday was a constant recycling of pizza, caffeine, and eager mentors as participants planned, coded, and validated ideas ranging from homework help to remembering court dates. Adding to the beautiful chaos was the #YesWeCode Oakland Gala from 6-9pm which gave local edu-movers, shakers, and activists an opportunity to engage with the hackathon teams.
Who: Van Jones, long-time civic activist of CNN and White House advisor fame, laid out the consequences of the global knowledge economy quite plainly to all young people listening: “It’s code or be coded!”
Wow: “I wouldn’t let him leave the room.” Sage advice from one mentor after Aston Motes, Employee #1 at Dropbox, walked in and asked a group of trailblazers if they wanted any help coding their sports injury prevention app, SafePlays.
Day 3: The Results Speak for Themselves
What: The Impact Hub may as well have been any startup office around the world, with new and old hackathoners bartering logo designs for business model validation in the eight hours leading up to final presentations.
Who: Fourteen teams, ranging in composition from world-class developers to 4th graders, presenting 5-minute pitches to a distinguished group of judges.
- 2nd Impression: Geo-location service that helps spotlight local businesses which hire previously incarcerated citizens, and encourages community to direct their spending power to those businesses
- BarterBank: Commerce platform that builds an “economy of dignity” by facilitating the trade of goods and services within the local community
- Connect the Dots (3rd Place Tie, People’s Choice Award): Counseling social network for students of color who attend private schools to build community
- CourtdateApp (2nd Place, Best Business Model): SMS app that helps teens remember their court dates and avoid jail time for failure to appear in court
- HealthyBird: Avatar-based lifestyle game that helps students make better decisions around health and nutrition
- HelpCircle (1st Place): Social service that makes it easy to text a close friend or family when you are feeling unsafe
- Homework Helpers: Homework management app that helps students identify and build a circle of accountability from friends and family
- iMatter: Geo-location service that provides localized resources for teen moms and helps them build an online support circle
- One Village: provides trusted, relevant, and ranked resources that support previously incarcerated citizens
- Ripple: Matchmaking app that connects people with local volunteering opportunities and pairs specific tasks with the time they have available
- Rx Easily (3rd Place Tie): Price-comparison tool and delivery service for low-income residents needing expensive prescription drugs
- SafePlays: Sports injury prevention app focused on awareness and education for high school and college athletes
- #SoWhatHadHappenedWas: Gameified decision making tool that helps students modify previous choices and explore alternative outcomes in order to instill better habits
- #ThisCouldBeMe: Mentoring app that shares profiles of successful people and allows them to share personal stories that might inspire youth
Wow: After all the pitching and judging subsided, all trailblazers were invited to participate in a Rite of Passage signifying their status as the future developers, designers, and business leaders of their communities.