College junior David Ongchoco first founded a chapter of YouthHack, an international network of student entrepreneurs, in his hometown of Manila, Philippines in 2014. The chapter was so successful that Ongchoco decided to bring the social entrepreneurship program with him to Penn.
This week, YouthHack is running the Startup@Penn program, a weeklong symposium surrounding the world of startup businesses. The program features panels of successful student entrepreneurs, an innovation mixer, an “ideathon” and an elevator pitch competition.
“The goal of this week ... is to build a better community here at Penn and get students to explore the world of startups,” Ongchoco, the founder of YouthHack Philadelphia, said.
YouthHack Philadelphia’s flagship program this semester is “Accelerator,” a 10-week-long intensive initiative to take student entrepreneurs from concept to company. YouthHack brings in other entrepreneurs and experts on “niche topics” to help guide students to develop business models and get their ideas off the ground. At the end of the program, YouthHack holds a “demo day,” where the semester’s class of startups pitch their ideas to investors and show their progress to the rest of the YouthHack group.
“The whole semester is a simulation to see what it really takes,” Ongchoco said. “It’s one thing to have an idea, but it’s another thing to have a business.”
Past YouthHack projects ranged from PreMed, which helps bring transparency to the medical industry by educating patients on pre- and post-operation medications and procedures, to Instahub, an automation hardware initiative that sensory-automates regular light devices.
Wharton junior Sanjula Weerawardhena is the Accelerator team’s program manager this semester. Weerawardhena described Accelerator as an “incrementally building” process that holds students responsible to continually work on their company throughout the week and semester.
College sophomore and Accelerator student associate Katherine Sizov just joined YouthHack this semester. After participating previously in another accelerator program, Sizov said she decided she wanted to move to a student-run accelerator to work more hands-on with the entrepreneurs. As one of the points of contact for students involved in the Accelerator program, Sizov and her other team members help connect the student entrepreneurs to resources regarding their startup.
YouthHack Accelerator accepts students on an basis at the beginning of the semester, and continues to work with students throughout the year. Applications for this semester close Jan. 30. From the applications, YouthHack picks a class of startup ideas to sponsor throughout the semester.
YouthHack is also working on two other programs this semester, FreshStart and Studio. FreshStart is a month-long program designed for freshmen to get involved in the Philadelphia startup scene and learn all the basics of starting a business. Studio takes a more technical approach, and tests different ideas to see if they have the potential to come to fruition as an actual company.
The students on the YouthHack teams form an entrepreneurial community with a range of backgrounds and experience. Weerawardhena said he wanted to diverge from the “traditional” Wharton career path and find a “less risky way to understand what the startup world is like.”
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