Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Starting Bloc NYC

Hi Friends!  So it's been a little over 2 months since I finished the Starting Bloc NYC Institute, and so much has happened.  I'm volunteering with a start-up company right now, and we're about to launch our Kickstarter campaign, but here's a rewind of what I gained from the Starting Bloc experience.  

1. Fish Camp for Adults-- From the moment I received the acceptance letter to StartingBloc, which included a GIF of a man doing his “Happy Dance,” I knew that I was on the right track.  We had a Google Hangout with our Breakout Team 1 week before we all got to NYC.  My group decided to wear matching colors on the first day for the WIN!  Our very first assignment was to walk through the streets of New York actively seeking opportunities to fail-- you probably saw pics on Instagram.  All of the sessions were interactive and collaborative and creative-- everything I love. 

2. The Sessions-  We attended about 5 sessions a-day, each covering various aspects of being a change-maker.   Scott Sherman was our keynote speaker-- his doctorate was on studying social change movements throughout history that have been successful and identifying trends and key levers in these movements.  His session taught us about the three principles of transformative action.  All of the other guest speakers were equally as knowledgeable in their respective fields:  we learned about how to build strong organizational culture, how to use storytelling to invest people in your cause, how to raise capital for start-ups, how to prototype your business idea, and so much more!

3. The Scrimmage (life-changing)-- On one of the days we got into our 10 Breakout Teams, and we got to be consultants for a real non-profit going through the woes of being a small start-up.  We learned about a strategy called Rapid-Prototyping for Human-Centered Design which I quickly became obsessed with.  Basically, the founder of the organization, Library for All, shared a little bit about their company and the current problem they were having.  We then as a team had to come up with solutions and build a prototype… within 20 minutes!  From there, “Users" walked around the room and interacted with our prototype, and we used insight from their interactions and their feedback to make 'rapid’ changes to the prototype and then gather new User feedback.  Rinse and repeat for as many iterations as we could possible fit into the 2-hour scrimmage.  It was so exhilarating-- especially since it was a REAL situation for a REAL company-- look them up and share their video! 
(Side note: All my YES Prep leaders-- we NEED to talk about this!  This concept of this process was taken from the manufacturing world, but in Human-Centered Design, you don't have to prototype products, you can actually prototype ideas!  I was thinking about all the times we've rolled out new discipline or incentive systems for students, or overhauled the community service program, or tried to roll out a big campus strategic goal, etc. without TESTING them!  We spend hours in a conference room thinking about what we think should be, how we THINK people will react, and then ultimately making these elaborate plans, only to watch them flop, but then still have to endure them at least through the rest of the semester, if not the year (I can't tell you how many times I did that as a GLC or even just a classroom teacher).  However, with those same hours (actually much fewer), we could be running a Rapid Prototyping session and gaining a year’s worth of ‘user' insight before locking in big plans!  I'd love to talk to one of y’all about this, and help you try it out with one of your teams, or maybe even see about getting the ReWork experts to come lead a session like they did for us.  It was BRILLIANT!) 

4. Ideas Marketplace (game-changer)-- So this is where everything crazy kinda started.  They basically gave us an overview of how to give a 1-minute pitch about a project that you're working on in order to gain support.  Then 20 minutes later, we were thrown to the wolves and had to present our own 1-minute pitches to the whole room.  At that point, I still wasn't sure what I was focusing on, but they encouraged us to just nail down something so that we could gain the experience or presenting and storytelling.   It was probably split half and half-- some people, like me, just had a very baby seedling idea, and other people had fascinating, well-developed ideas-- a lot of them, actual companies that they had already started.
*Give a Day Global- partner tourists up with one day of volunteer work during their international vacations to help raise awareness for different issues/communities
*Thought Collective Design- Founder, (a 22 year old girl) lives in Zimbabwe and employs women to make clothes for a clothing line she sells in Austin, TX.  Allows those women to care for their children rather than leaving them at the orphanage. 
*I don't know the name of the company, but they sell cookies and chips made from cricket powder as a more affordable source of protein for and in response to non-sustainable factory-farming
*Report It Girl- a website for collecting stories and providing nurturing community for women who have been sexually abused.
*Spare Change- wanted to start collecting the stories of homeless people (similar to Humans of New York) to bring awareness and help people gain a better understanding of people in need
(You can look most of these companies up online and like their pages!)

Sooo I talked about what I knew… inner-city students in Houston, and gave my pitch on wanting to create an organization that taught character skills like empathy, courage, grit, leadership, etc., especially in low-income communities-- think workshops, retreats, summer camps a la Andria Groover and I, circa 2011.  I wasn't expecting much since I wasn't a legit company like other people, but after the Ideas Marketplace, several people came up to me share that they really loved what I talked about and how important it was, some others wanted to join forces with the similar ideas and experience that they had, and still others just wanted to connect me with people in their networks who were working on something similar.  Which led me to Happy Heart Kid…

Happy Heart Kid is a start-up that I found out about through one of my SB Fellows.  The founder has created a series of activity kits for children ages 3-8 which use games and craft projects to teach specific character skills like Empathy, Grit, Self-Control, etc.  It's not the direction that I was thinking, as the institute I had in mind was going to be a service for pre-teens and teens rather than a product for kids, but it was still a great starting point to learn.  I'm not ready to start my own company, as I’m still focusing on studying performing arts while I'm still young :), but one of the commitments I made on the last day of SB was to volunteer with different start-ups 1) because it makes me happy to be a part of such interesting projects, but 2) to gain valuable experience in the social start-up sector.  So I've been slowly taking on the social media marketing for Happy Heart Kid, and helping with product testing and revisions. We're about to launch our Kickstarter campaign on November 12th!  We've been gaining more and more followers and even have been mentioned on some big mommy-blogs, so it's exciting to watch it grow.  I'm nervous because we are shooting for a big goal with our campaign-- and with Kickstarter, we don't get any of the capital if we do not reach our whole goal, but no matter what happens, we're going to learn so much from this process.  So if you haven't already, like our FB page, follow us on Instagram (Happy Heart Kid), and sign up for our email updates on our website so you can see the journey unfold!  I do most of the quotes and pictures on our page each morning, so you'll know the face behind the posts! :)  

It's Your Turn! Lastly know that Starting Bloc just posted their dates and locations for 2015, so if any of this sounded interesting to you, look up their website to learn more and reach out to me so we can chat about it!