Recap: Inspired by students of STEP-UP Achieve

A little over a week ago, on a Saturday afternoon, I went to CoCo’s downtown location to be a guest judge at the STEP-UP Entrepreneur-in-Training Day. My thoughts about the day are best summarized by this tweet:

That gives you a sense of where my mind was by the time the event was over. But, before the event? Let me be honest: I had an exhausting week. I agreed to volunteer at this event before finding out that my husband also had an event that day, which meant we had to find someone to watch our kids for most of the day. I went into the event feeling tired and overwhelmed. (Cue the tiny violins.) Then I got to CoCo. The energy was apparent as soon as I walked into the room. Groups of students and mentors were buzzing in small groups, preparing to present their ideas — which they only had a few hours to come up — to a panel of judges (myself, Kyle Coolbroth, Adam Bacchus and Chris Carlson). Over the next couple of hours, ten groups of students presented product concepts to address food deserts, financial literacy, clean drinking water, and college attrition. Their ideas ranged from iPhone apps to buses that could drive, fly, and crawl across terrain. They presented their ideas with humor, and style. They flubbed and messed up, but they kept going. They were nervous, but they worked through it. Their creativity was astounding. Their teamwork was inspiring — especially considering that most of the students didn’t know their teammates before the event. After the presentations were over, Kyle asked each of the judges if we had any words of advice for the kids. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but above all else I wanted these kids — young adults, really — to hear two things:

  1. At this event, and in life, winners and losers get chosen — for different things, and by different “judges.” But, especially when it comes to entrepreneurship, the real winning ideas aren’t always the ones that judges pick as winners. Breakthough ideas are often not understood right away. Things that are ubiquitous now — like Google, for example — were seen as WTFs when they were first launched. So, don’t get caught up in what someone else says is a winning idea. If you believe in it, make it happen. When you — or the idea — fail, keep going. Don’t let the opinion of a “judge” deter you.
  2. You’ve already accomplished something remarkable: you got up in front of a roomful of people and you talked. That terrifies most people. So, the hard part is over: you spoke publicly, and you survived. After this, you can do anything.

So, back to my original tweet. I hear lots of people lament about the next generation. I hear that kids these days don’t have social skills because they interact with screens all the time. I hear that kids these days can’t write because txting. I hear that kids these days are disrespectful. I’m not naive — I’m sure “kids these days” have some issues. But, frankly, so do a lot of adults. (Check the internet, there’s tons of evidence.) But the kids of Achieve Minneapolis? If those kids are running the world someday, we’ve got nothing to worry about. Achieve Minneapolis and CoCo: thanks. Thanks for inviting me to participate. Thanks for creating spaces and events for adults and young adults to flex their entrepreneurial muscles. Thanks for shaking me out of my funk and reminding me why I love what I do. Because we get to make stuff up — and then we get to build it. And we should all look forward to having the STEP-UP students on our teams. Entrepreneur Training Day in pictures