Kekona Evans wasn’t about to let any chances slip by him when he spent a week in Silicon Valley as part of a nonprofit tech development camp.
The 14-year-old, who already started his own T-shirt company, approached each guest speaker after the event and gave them his best elevator pitch for his clothing and fashion business.
“No matter how young you are, you can turn a good idea into something big,” Evans said.
Evans and 15 other soon-to-be high school freshmen from the Twin Cities were part of a program run by Silicon North Stars, a nonprofit organization formed by Steve and Mary Grove in 2014 to introduce high school students from underserved communities to the possibilities of technology careers.
“There will be 100,000 available tech jobs in Minnesota in the next 10 years,” Grove said. Exposing them to the possibilities is the first step.
The Groves founded the nonprofit in California but recently moved to Minnesota.
Steve Grove is head of Google News Lab, which helps drive innovation in the news industry. Mary Grove is a former Google employee and now a partner in the Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, a venture by entrepreneur and investor Steve Case, the former AOL chief executive, that invests in promising seed-stage companies.
Camp in California
The bulk of the Silicon North Stars program is a one-week camp each year in California, where the 16 students meet leaders of top technology companies, startups and venture capital funds.
This year’s program included tours of Facebook, YouTube, Lyft and other startup companies and a visit to Stanford University.
Kaltun Abdirahman Mohamed, who heard about the Silicon North Stars program through the Step-Up Program and will attend Southwest High School, was inspired by the diverse workforces on the tour of Silicon Valley companies.
“It was life-changing,” Mohamed said. “Seeing it right in front of my face was really amazing.”
Toward the end of the week, the 16 new Silicon North Stars were presented with a startup challenge: “How can technology help eliminate all school shootings within one year, while preserving a school environment that is conducive to learning and growth?”
At the end of the camp, students split into four teams to work on the startup challenge. They presented their ideas during a “demo day” competition Thursday night at Fueled Collective in the Grain Exchange Building in Minneapolis.
Evans, who will be a freshman at St. Louis Park High School, and his teammates Sue Paw, Karen Herrera and Chit Moua Chang won the pitch battle for their plan that included smart doors and windows connected to gun-detection sensors. The presentation also included a marketing strategy and a plan to monitor student emotions in traumatic situations.
The program doesn’t stop after the Silicon Valley trip. Students will have the opportunity to participate in quarterly events that help them stay on track with short-term and long-term personal-mission statements they developed in the program and give them continued exposure to the local technology and startup community in Minnesota.
“Our first round of students are now high school graduates,” Grove said. “They’ve moved on to college — mostly local colleges.”