Startup Camp PDX: Encouraging the next generation of Portland startups

[Editor’s note: This February 21-23, Portland high schools Catlin Gabel School, Lincoln High School, and Oregon Episcopal School will take part in Startup Camp PDX, an opportunity for students to “join together to launch products that just might change the world.” This guest post shares the inspiration behind the project.]

I caught startup fever just a few months into teaching the dismal science. I wanted Catlin Gabel’s first economics course to be relevant to my bright-eyed soon-to-be college students, but I found myself wading in a pool of depressing statistics—recent college graduates face an unemployment of nearly 9% and even that number seems optimistic given that nearly half of all college grads are underemployed. The average college student graduates with $29,000 in student loans and it’s much easier for me to refinance my mortgage than it will be to the average student to shop for a lower interest rate on her investment in her education.

As a class, we evaluated the economic perspective and figured out the causes of the Great Recession, but the solutions to lingering unemployment and stagnant economic growth remained elusive…until I saw my students’ reactions to our speaker series on innovation. Ken Tomita of Grove asked students disregard the naysayers by having a “Can… if…” attitude. Survey Monkey’s founders told the story of their humble beginnings in a small apartment in Madison, Wisconsin and the founder of the Oregon Angel Fund, Eric Rosenfeld, spoke about the thousands of jobs created by startups in the Portland area in recent years.

While the macroeconomic indicators looked grim, my students found tremendous hope and potential in innovation and entrepreneurship. In fact, the top concern among Oregon technology companies is their inability to find enough skilled workers to fill comfortably salaried positions. In addition, it seems like the startup scene will offer my students increasing flexibility in the workplace. Recent studies estimate that freelancers will make up 50% of the full time workforce by 2020 and “Generation Z” will surely demand and appreciate the perks of working from wherever, whenever even more than the Millenials before them.

I want my students to pursue a life of innovation and entrepreneurship because this is the future of our collective prosperity and this is the force that gives life to the Silicon forests, valleys and prairies throughout the country. This is why we’re introducing Startup Camp.

Catlin Gabel will host the inaugural Startup Camp on the weekend of February 21 -23. Students will join together to launch products that just might change the world. Students will turn their dreams into reality by attending Portland’s first Startup Camp specifically for students. It will be three days of intense collaboration, innovation, and learning from inspiring entrepreneurs and experts in the fields of software, design, engineering, business development, sales, marketing and investing.

Students begin the weekend by pitching their ideas on Friday night and voting on the top ideas. Students with the top ideas become CEOs of their companies, recruit a team of students to be part of a group of corporate founders and work with an experienced event facilitator to meet critical checkpoints (we will call them “badges” in true camp fashion) in business development under the mentorship of experts in their fields.

Students will build their business throughout the entire weekend to turn their vision a reality. Then, on Sunday night, student teams will give a final pitch to a board of startup investors who will act as judges. We are just as excited to have students build the next big app as we are for students to develop a new portal for the sharing economy or a new service an aging population or a new type of indoor/outdoor work station that allows for a more flexible and healthy workplace.

We welcome support, volunteers and encouragement for our young, aspiring entrepreneurs. If you would like more information or want to be involved, please check out Startup Camp PDX or email Meredith at goddardm@catlin.edu.

Meredith Goddard teaches history and economics at Catlin Gabel and believes in education for citizenship, innovation and empathy. In addition to co-founding Startup Camp with Catlin Gabel parents Monica Enand and Nitin Rai, Meredith advises the school’s Model United Nations team and leads discussions on feminism around campus. Meredith is a 2013 Choices Program Teaching Fellow and teaches for Saturday Academy in the summer. In her free time, Meredith loves learning, reading voraciously, long distance runs, live music and banana bread.