Middle-School Entrepreneurs Surprise with Adult Design Contest Win

The event was a weekend-long contest in which Minnesota’s adult technology entrepreneurs raced for 54 hours to bring startup concepts to life. Jack Sarenpa-Maldonado and his classmates were seventh-and eighth graders at Venture Academy, a Minneapolis middle charter school. They were in it for the experience, because Venture Academy focuses on entrepreneurship.

When his team was declared the winner over all the adult teams, Sarenpa-Maldonado was stunned. “I thought he pulled a Steve-Harvey-At-Miss-Universe Moment,” he quipped.

I love stories like what journalist Beth Hawkins captured about students from the “Makerspace” at Venture Academy, a room equipped with high and low-tech toys where people come together to tinker and invent. These students now have a huge head start on their requirements for a diploma from Venture High. That’s the school the program’s founders will launch next fall, where students will be required to start a business, build a team, and conduct a workplace apprenticeship.

Add to this story that these students serve a cross-section of the Twin Cities’ most disadvantaged youth: 54% Latino, 35% Black, 10% Native American and 10% white. More than 90 percent qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch and 28% are learning English.

I’ve written about this school before, those blogposts can be found here and here. This is the Minnesota school that is a partner with Summit Schools of California, where students are given the personalized power to design their own learning plans using hands-on project experience and online curricula. Last year its students, says Hawkins, made more growth than all but one Minneapolis school serving the same grades, even though many students start out years behind.

So, what was the student team’s winning innovative idea? Check out Thursday’s blogpost.