Two 11-year-old entrepreneurs learned the hard way what it’s like to be a minority in tech during Startup Weekend
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend Triangle Startup Weekend in Durham, N.C. It was the fourth startup weekend event for the Triangle area, but even with a record attendance of about 170, there were only a small number of people who participated in a startup weekend event before. I would guess about 20 from the hands that were raised. If you’re not familiar with startup weekend events, the concept is simple. Attendees with a startup idea had 60 seconds to pitch their idea Friday. Attendees voted for the top 20 ideas. The people with winning ideas assemble teams. Teams work on the idea from Friday to Sunday, and Sunday evening, teams show their progress from idea to hopefully a working product.
With the high attendance rate, you could expect a high number of pitches. There were more than 54 pitches! Two pitches that stood out from the rest were by two 11-year-old entrepreneurs, Marci Lawson and Ben Brown. Lawson pitched Cheer Chatter, a mobile app that connects 3.5 million cheerleaders around the USA to share stories, celebrate victories, showcase skills, and communicate; and Brown pitched Swag App, which allows kids to find out where to get the coolest clothing, vote on fashions, buy online, and share their style. Both kids did great in pitching their ideas for startup weekend, and honestly did a lot better than some adults. You can see their pitches below.
Marci Lawson’s Cheer Chatter startup weekend pitch.
Ben Brown, Swag App startup weekend pitch
For the record, I pitched and my idea didn’t make the top 20. But Marci’s and Ben’s ideas made the cut and it was time for them to form a team and start working on their startup ideas. So they thought. What happened next was a hard wake up call for two young entrepreneurs who were ready to start working on their startup and something I hope any entrepreneur, parent or kid never experiences in their life.
Yes, Marci’s and Ben’s startup ideas were selected, but no one joined their team. It was just sad. You could see their faces light up as they sat with their parents when the winning ideas were announced. They walked to the front of the stage expecting to see someone from the 170 in attendance join them and nothing happened. A few minutes later, that joy turned to sadness. Just a few people came to over to see what the young entrepreneurs needed to start working on their ideas. Heck, I didn’t even walk over to ask how I could help. Shame on me. But as an entrepreneur, I connected with a few guys, and we created an ad hoc team for my idea and went to work. It’s what entrepreneurs do. You either work on your idea, especially if you believe in it, or you let it die. It’s called passion. It’s what venture capitalists say all the time when they’re looking to invest in a startup. They want to know if the founder is passionate about the idea/startup or not.
A few minutes passed, and I started to see the crowd dwindle a little. Ben walked by looking sad, and I asked him if he was OK. “I don’t have a hacker on my team,” he said in a low cracking voice. It’s sad when adult teams don’t have a hacker or a developer on their team much less an 11-year-old kid with an idea. My team of four and I gave Ben a pep talk and he was on his way. At that point I wasn’t sure if Marci and Ben would be returning for day two of Triangle Startup Weekend but they did!
Marci and her mom arrived Saturday morning for day two and asked if they could sit with my team and watch us. I told them yes but asked, why not work on Cheer Chatter? My point was regardless of whether you have a hacker, designer or developer on your team or not, there’s still work to be done. Marci could work on the business model, marketing plan, write copy for the site, sketch mockups or start blogging about her experiences. I told them, don’t give up on your idea if you believe it. A few minutes later, Marci and her mom had their own table working Cheer Chatter, and then Ben and his father returned as well. About a few hours later, both had moved to a back corner and they had help from other startup weekend attendees designing layouts for Marci’s Cheer Chatter and Ben’s Swag App.
When Sunday evening arrived, it was time for pitches but right before we started the organizers allowed both Marci and Ben to say a few words. Both kids thanked everyone for the help and said they were grateful to be welcomed at Triangle Startup weekend despite getting off to a rough start. Neither Marci nor Ben finished Sunday with a working app or landing page but both stood on stage, showed their progress and pitched their startup ideas to the judges. Great job kids and their parents.
Out of the 170 or so attendees, I would guess there were about 15 to 20 blacks and maybe 10 of other ethnicities. The majority of participants were white and mostly guys. So for Marci and Ben they were the minority in terms of age and race, and Marci was one of only two Black women who pitched out of the 54. Numbers like this is just another reason why we’re launching the NewME Accelerator to help other minorities launch their startup.
Marci and Ben experienced what it’s like to be a minority in tech. You can have great ideas, and people can and will say it’s a good idea but at the end of the day you may be own your own with little support. But both of them showed great results and worked throughout the weekend and showed they had the passion to see their ideas completed.
When I saw Ben later after the pitches, he wasn’t looking sad but had a little swag in his step. I told him good job and congrats. Then he handed me his new Swag App business card. As for Marci, she’s not only working on getting Cheer Chatter mobile app built and launched but has already launched her new website MarciLawson.com to help educate kids on entrepreneurship and cheer leading.
If 11-year-old kids can launch a startup, you can too!Category: Diversity, Entrepreneur, Startups | Tags: Ben Brown, cheer chatter, entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship, Marci Lawson, minorities, minority in tech, startup weekend, swag app, triangle startup weekend