Startup Series 2016 (Draft v.1)

(Internal Document for Organizers)


Startup Series is a series of events and workshops for girls ages 11-15 through which we support girls in developing 21st century leadership practices. For 2015-16, we will do this by engaging girls in a creative process around the entrepreneur’s journey.

We define creative process as a journey of exploring, making and creating that helps a person (a) uncover new and/or unique insights, (b) reveal these insights for the world to see through her personal expression of it, and (c) engage others with her around that expression. There are creative processes that involve only the individual; ours involve and include other people – learning from, working with, being coached and mentored by, co-creating with another, and sharing with those around us.

The entrepreneur’s journey is the path of someone who wants to start, create and organize some sort of enterprise. It is a highly risky but attractive path, particularly in this age when working at a meaningful job for someone else is becoming less and less of a reliable option. Teaching girls about this journey is an ideal opportunity to weave in the creative process.

We chose the creative process as our starting point because we believe that, for students at this age, process is one of the missing pieces in education. Much of what are considered 21st century skills cannot be explicitly taught but must be learned as part of an integrated experience with real-life application. Teaching critical thinking and collaboration, for example, is difficult when done in a vacuum, yet can be done as part of a project or activity in which students see the impact of their work in their own lives or the lives of those around them.

Another reason to focus on process is because many students, and more and more students of the digital age, learn better in dynamic environments. Teaching using traditional methods (lecturing, reading, researching, writing) is not enough to engage these students. They desire the connections that occur at a more human level – in-person, back-and-forth, playful, inquisitive, challenging, joyful, energetic, upward (learning from adult role models), peer-to-peer, and downward (helping someone else). The creative process allows them to do that.

In 2014, we hosted our first Startup Series in Menlo Park, CA. Over the course of four months (January to May), thirty girls met four times for three-hour workshops. They learned programming and business concepts from volunteers who are working professionals; formed teams (10 total); hacked out ideas, plans, presentations and prototypes; and engaged in an open dialogue around their work with each other and the participating community of girls and mentors. The series culminated with a live pitch event in front of judges who were venture capitalists and investors.

This year, the Startup Series will run once again. We will tie the experience to three of the stages laid out in Startup Weekend’s “The Entrepreneur’s Journey“:

Stage 1: InspireI want to be an entrepreneur
Stage 2: DiscoverI want to learn
Stage 3: ActionI am creating

The following descriptions of Stages 1-3 are from “The Entrepreneur’s Journey.” (underlined emphasis ours)

Stage 1: InspireI want to be an entrepreneur

At this stage, the individual is undergoing an important realization that creating a company, working for themselves, or being an entrepreneur is something they are interested in doing. The programs that exist in the ‘Inspire’ step are centered on encouraging people to think creatively, be critical and insightful about the world around them, and provide a foundation of basic skills.

Ideally, more and more people will experience this first stage. Presently, we live in a world where ‘fear’ is often a driving mentality that limits our potential. Subsequently, individuals are often prevented from recognizing entrepreneurship as a valid option altogether. Many of us operate under constraints that we allow other people and systems to place on us; if we haven’t been explicitly told that we can do something, it tends to become an option that we don’t visualize. Because of this, the option of working for oneself is a concept that is commonly overlooked as a life path.

Stage 2: DiscoverI want to learn
This step captures the phase in which an individual begins to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs, mentors, or experts in the field of interest. Identifying with others who also challenge the traditional notions of success and acknowledge the potential hazards that lie ahead is often all that is needed for the entrepreneur to tackle the path that they hope to pursue.

In nearly every society, individuals are conditioned by educational systems and cultural norms in particular to aspire to be doctors, lawyers, or work at the pre-existing big firms such as Microsoft, Deloitte, etc. The difference between knowing that entrepreneurship is an option and actually breaking free from the cultural barriers that encourage us to follow the paths of more ‘security’ and less ambiguity is a significant one. Often times, the idea of “taking the leap” seems horrifying or is advised against, and it often appears to be a very lonely path with little direction or support. However, with a little perseverance, most aspiring entrepreneurs quickly find they are far from alone.

Stage 3: ActionI am creating
At this stage, entrepreneurs are learning how to share their ideas and attract support from other people. Individuals should be seeking the right co-founders and team members, learning how to evaluate the potential value of their idea, developing an understanding of the problem they are solving (and who they are solving it for), and discovering the tools and methodologies needed to help manage progress, etc. The key aspects of learning how to start a business are impossible to teach in a classroom. A foundation for creating successful ventures can only be realized one way
— through action.

The action step is largely underdeveloped and perhaps one of the least understood, as most programs and models tend to assume any person with an idea can be considered a startup. In reality, there is an entire phase in which an aspiring entrepreneur needs to discover the more obvious and basic first steps. {Startup Weekend considers this stage “the largest source of new entrepreneurs in the world.”}

Planning for Startup Series

In our integrated (multimodal) and experiential approach, aspects of all three stages will be part of the girls’ experiences throughout.  This allows girls of any background and of any learning profile to participate.

The emphasis is on the creative process and entrepreneurship serves as the vehicle through which the girls engage with and learn to embrace this process. Success won’t necessarily be measured by brilliance of an idea or execution. We will use pre-series, mid-series and post-series surveys to assess changes in girls’ comfort level and familiarity with aspects of the creative process. Our hope is that, by engaging in this process over and over, girls will one day be able to produce successful startups (or any other kinds of innovative, independent undertakings they choose) because they’ve had a chance to learn, fail, adapt, grow, create and refine.

In planning the series, we start with identifying guest speakers and topics. We try to have speakers from diverse and creative fields so that girls are exposed to a wide-range of perspectives and stories. We look for speakers who can support girls by:

  • encouraging and modeling how to think creatively and be critical and insightful about the world around them;
  • providing a foundation of basic skills for the entrepreneur’s journey, including learning how to evaluate the potential value of an idea, developing an understanding of the problem to be solved (and who it is being solved for), and discovering tools and methodologies needed to help manage progress; or
  • personally connecting with girls so that they experience a community of caring and/or like-minded entrepreneurs, mentors, or experts in the field of interest. 

We look at availability of dates/locations. as well as what makes the most sense for girls and families with respect to scheduling, needs and interests.

Simultaneously, we invite guest mentors and invite them to mentor training sessions. Mentors play a key role in keeping the framework cohesive. Speakers come and go, and so do mentors, but mentors will always have a single framework through which they can review and dialogue with girls about the girls’ progress and journey.

Key Elements of an Event/Workshop

  • Speaker stories – bring in guest speakers who (a) have braved paths in any field or taken alternative paths to where they want to go/live the life they want to live; (b) can share stories about speaker’s work and what inspired/inspire speaker; (c) can have dialogue around fear, uncertainty, overcoming challenges, sources of courage; (d) can brainstorm with girls ideas related to the speaker’s field of work where girls may be able to have an impact.
  • Speaker teachings – bring in guest speakers who (a) are entrepreneurs, work with entrepreneurs or know about business concepts; (b) can prepare and deliver concise instruction (plus materials, if possible) around a specific area of entrepreneurship; (c) can dialogue with girls around how that area applies to girls’ projects; (d) can listen to and give feedback on girls’ presentations at workshop.
  • Mentor coaching – bring in mentors who can (a) discuss with girls what speakers share; (b) ask and answer questions to facilitate understanding and progress; (c) help girls get their ideas down and develop them into more concrete projects; (d) guide girls to stay on schedule; (e) give feedback on girls’ prototypes/ presentations; (f) encourage and support girls to initiate, dialogue, work together, and take ownership of their projects.
  • Group work – (a) girls form teams and work in teams; (b) girls work with mentors in teams; (c) girls work with teams off-site (at home); (d) girls give and receive continuous feedback with each other through presentations in pods (group of 2-3 teams) and in front of the entire group.
  • Individual work – (a) send materials to girls for review at home before and after events/workshops so that they can engage with learnings more deeply and reflect on their experiences; (b) have girls write intention statements pre-series; status blog mid-series (for sharing among teams); and post-series blog (for sharing publicly); (c) have girls take on roles within their teams and learn to self-manage time and progress.
  • Presentations – (a) teams prepare and practice with each other and mentor; (b) teams present work-in-progress to pods; (c) teams present to large group; (d) teams present in final pitch.

Sample Schedule (180 mins)

  • Welcome/intro (5mins)
  • Speaker story (5 mins)
  • Speaker teaching (10 mins)
  • Team discussion w/mentor (10 mins)
  • Team work (20 mins)
  • Team presentation to pod (10 mins)
  • Break (5 mins)
  • Re-convene in large group and de-brief (10 mins)
  • Speaker teaching (10 mins)
  • Team discussion w/mentor (10 mins)
  • Team work (20 mins)
  • Team presentation to pod (10 mins) – a pod is a group of 2-3 teams)
  • Break (5 mins)
  • Team work to prepare for large-group presentation (10 mins)
  • Team presentation to entire room (30 mins)
  • Conclusion/take-home info (10 mins)


1. What’s the ideal number of events/workshops?

2-4 speakers from creative fields
4-6 speakers from entrepreneurship-related fields
3-4 guest “judges” for final presentations

2. Who is available to speak? Does she/he have an interesting story to share that could inspire students? What is her/his area of creative process/entrepreneurial expertise?

Let’s discover + enlist volunteers!

3. Do we have any speakers so far?

Miho Aida (documentary + discussion about outdoor female role models) – October 25, 2015
Julie Yoo (deYoung Museum visit + tour on topic of “how to learn from museums”) – November 14, 2015

4. Who will be the series kickoff speaker?

Kirsty Nathoo – confirm date availability

5. What’s the timeline?

October-January: speakers from creative fields
November/December/January: kickoff (depending on Kirsty’s availability)
February-May: speakers from entrepreneurship-related fields

6. How can we gather an advisory team?

Can you join us?!