Mentoring the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs
This guest post comes to us from Bill Rosenberg. Bill works as an Implementation Consultant at AppNexus and leads the AppNexus mentorship team for NFTE, where he expresses his passions in business, technology, and teaching.
Allow me to begin with a story made in ad tech heaven.
One sunny day this past June, a few of my colleagues and I met for a brainstorming session. Our project? Build a mobile app. We would be working with an external team on this project, and this was the first time we’d be meeting them. One catch: this wasn’t a group of seasoned iOS engineers we were meeting, but instead a team of high school students.
Going around the room, each student explained a problem they thought was worth solving. Becky’s turn came, and she explained how difficult it was to find the right high school for her — she did not want to go to the school that was assigned to her, but she struggled to find good information on what other schools she was eligible for, whether the schools matched her preferences, or how likely she was to be admitted. One day while browsing the Internet, she came across a banner ad for a high school. She clicked on the ad, judged the school to be a good fit, applied, and went on to attend.
As AppNexians, we were inspired by her story of how a simple online ad solved such a major problem. But we also agreed with the need for a more holistic solution to finding the right high school for other students in her position.
The high school choice problem resonated with other students in the group too, so we decided to build an app that would solve this challenge. The team took on the name H! School(pronounced “high school”) and spent the rest of the summer turning their idea into a reality.
“So let me get this straight: Is AppNexus hiring high schoolers now?”
Not quite. This summer, AppNexus participated in Startup Tech Summer, a flagship initiative by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). NFTE is a nationwide organization with the mission to “activate the entrepreneurial mindset and build startup skills in youth from under-resourced communities to ensure their success and to create a more vibrant society.”
Startup Tech Summer carries out that mission every year by matching teams of high schoolers with volunteers from different NYC companies – in addition to AppNexus, this year’s volunteers came from places like MasterCard, Deloitte, and Warby Parker. The volunteers then help the team build an app and come up with a business plan around it. The whole thing concludes with Demo Night, in which all the teams gather in AppNexus’ Razzle Dazzle space to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, who determine a final winner.
We’ve fielded a team of mentors for the last 4 years, with this year’s supporters being Harsh Jiandani, Sara Hamilton, Scott Eichengrun, Clayton Wall, Ilja Herdt, and me, with guest appearances from Jillian Spina and Sheri Senge.
Every Tuesday and Thursday after work, the AppNexians met with team H! School to mentor them on entrepreneurship. Our mentorship team’s diversity — in technical expertise, business experience, educational background, and beyond — equipped us to mentor the students on all facets of launching a technology business. In a given session, Ilja and Sara could be coaching the student engineers on designing and building the app, Harsh and Clayton could be coaching others on writing the business plan and creating the pitch deck, and Scott could be helping with branding and design. “Learn and teach” is one of AppNexus’ core values, and putting it into action for such a worthy cause was truly a privilege.
More importantly, when it comes to the students’ growth this summer, the proof is in the pudding. They already successfully launched the first iteration of their app, with features including a map of nearby schools, first-hand reviews of high schools from students and teachers, and statistical and categorical information on schools that students can use to filter for their preferences. The app already functions for the NYC high school system, and their dream is to expand it to the rest of the globe.
On the business side, the team created a compelling business plan, covering the opportunity, demographics, monetization and financials, and much more. To cap it off, the team created a pitch deck and prepared their pitch, delivering to a live panel of judges and packed audience.
I wish our mentee group and the rest of the Startup Tech cohort the best of luck and am excited to see them continue their entrepreneurial pursuits beyond this summer.