Noble Impact Bringing First High School Startup Weekend to Little Rock in April

Little Rock's Noble Impact is bringing the first-ever High School Startup Weekend to the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service this spring.

Seattle-based Startup Weekend began in 2007 as a grassroots movement to build entrepreneurial communities and launch startup ventures. It brings together local entrepreneurs, designers and more for brainstorming sessions held over 54 hours -- the course of a weekend -- to form ideas around which tech-based startups are built.

Startup Weekends are held across the globe and in 2013 made their way to Little Rock and Fayetteville. As of April 2013, roughly 1,100 events had been held worldwide involving more than 100,000 entrepreneurs. More than 400 cities in more than 100 countries have hosted Startup Weekends, spawning more than 8,100 startups.

National Startup Weekend sponsors include the Kauffman Foundation, Google and Microsoft.

Several startups launched at Startup Weekends in Little Rock and Fayetteville remain viable, including Little Rock winner Acorn Hours (which started as Simple Service), Fayetteville startup and Innovate Arkansas client Nerdies, and Passion Pull, a startup created by high school students from eStem High School in Little Rock who attended the Fayetteville event. That team of six students is part of the Noble Impact program at eStem.

Noble Impact, a nonprofit that partners with the Clinton School, works with students to engage them in public service through entrepreneurship.

The success of the Passion Pull team at Startup Weekend motivated Noble Impact to launch the first-ever High School Startup Weekend, to be held in Little Rock April 4-6 at the Clinton School. 

Arkansas Business and Innovate Arkansas recently caught up with Noble Impact CEO Eric Wilson to get the details behind this unique event.

Discuss the process of getting this idea endorsed by Startup Weekend.

Wilson: At its core, Startup Weekend is a 54-hour learn-by-doing educational experience. Team dynamics, critical thinking and problem solving all come into play during the challenge of taking an idea from concept to reality. We saw this first-hand when Noble Impact students participated in the NWA Startup Weekend, competing head-to-head with adult teams. Not only did they win a 3D printer, but students were also introduced to skills and processes that will amplify their overall education. Knowing that more students could benefit from this experience, we pitched it to Startup Weekend, and they have supported us throughout the process.

How will High School Startup Weekend differ from the traditional model?

Wilson: From the very beginning, it was important to both Startup Weekend and us that the format not be watered down in an attempt to accommodate high school students. We have seen first-hand that students are more than capable of handling the rigor of the 54-hour competition.

Unlike the traditional version of Startup Weekend, we will be introducing new concepts, like Lean Startup Methodology and G60 pitching to high school students for the first time. That's why we've recruited some of Arkansas' top talent in entrepreneurship and education to support them throughout the weekend. These mentors and facilitators are key to the process and add tremendous value to the entire weekend.

How will HSSW benefit its participants, even if they never go on to become entrepreneurs?

Wilson: Entrepreneurship is one of the fastest growing studies on college campuses. Unfortunately, success in these programs is oftentimes measured exclusively with the number of startups launched and the amount of venture capital raised. Don't get me wrong. Those things are important, but entrepreneurial education is about life enhancement, which includes being college- and career-ready. 

The godfather of entrepreneurship studies, Professor Howard Stevenson, defines entrepreneurship as the "pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled." That skill set is applicable to everyone and every industry. For parents reading this, high school students that experience programs like the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship show significant increased interest in attending college and higher occupational aspirations.

In what ways do Noble Impact's students continue to surprise you?

Wilson: This young generation innately wants to make a positive impact. When asked to start a company, they naturally lean toward ideas with a strong social component. We see it time and time again. They don't just say they want to make a difference in the world; they actually believe it. Our job is to engage that "change the world" mentality while providing as much opportunity as possible.

Any plans to partner with other schools?

Wilson: Yes. We have big plans for Noble Impact. However, we can't overemphasize the importance of the first school to open its doors. John Bacon and his team at eStem have been incredible partners and deserve a tremendous amount of credit for seeing the importance of educating at the intersection of public service and entrepreneurship. 

Describe the environment for youth entrepreneurship in Arkansas right now.

Wilson: In 1985, only 250 college courses taught entrepreneurship, according to the Kauffman Foundation. Today, around 400,000 students take entrepreneurship classes every year. This growth hasn't fully extended to the K-12 sector.

Arkansas has an opportunity to be the national leader in youth entrepreneurship. At this point, I think it's critical to inform students, educators and administrators about the startup ecosystem. There is no doubt that entrepreneurship education in K-12 is rare, but we're ready to change that and believe Arkansas is a perfect place to start.

Is this generation of kids coming up more equipped to engage entrepreneurship at an earlier age? Or rather, is it simply equipped in a different way than past generations?

Wilson: Technology has removed all barriers for starting a business. Do you need to raise capital?  Entrepreneurs have raised $850 million on Kickstarter. How do you sell your product? Within 10 minutes, you can design and publish an ecommerce site through Shopify and begin processing orders. Now that you're generating revenue, do you need to get your finances in order? Take Wharton’s online accounting course on Coursera.

The game has changed, but it's important to remember that tools are only as good as the user. That’s why educational opportunities like Startup Weekend are so valuable. 

For more information about High School Startup Weekend, visit the website or contact Katie Milligan at katie@nobleimpact.com.