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BUILD Entrepreneurs and the COVID-19 Virtual Design Challenge

Julie Tumasz and Marisol Burgueno

In May 2020, BUILD launched the COVID-19 Virtual Design Challenge, inviting students to apply real world project-based learning to build solutions for mental and physical wellness during the pandemic. This first fully digital offering from BUILD equips youth with the entrepreneurial skills and mindsets they need to design a more just and equitable world.

BUILD youth start the program in 9th grade and spend the year learning the ins and outs of entrepreneurship by developing product-based businesses with the primary aim to turn a profit. Students keep all profits they earn. In BUILD’s 10th grade program, students will shift their entrepreneurial focus from making a profit to making a difference. According to Harvard Business Review, “social entrepreneurs are interested in understanding the social, economic, political, and cultural context of the problems they are trying to solve.” Hence, by developing a Social Entrepreneurship & Civic Engagement strand in BUILD, we can help students position themselves as agents of change in their schools and communities, leveraging their entrepreneurial mindset to change the world around them.

Filling a need for engaging online content in the wake of widespread school closures, BUILD’s Design Challenge is providing a dual benefit: offering teachers, youth program facilitators, and volunteers valuable professional development while providing students with engaging, relatable project-based experiential learning. Leveraging skills and confidence acquired in their first year of BUILD, students will learn how to research social issues close to home, determine which ones they are equipped to address, develop a strategy for solving problems, and work within their communities and within the civic system to bring about lasting, positive change. BUILD- PW-Picture1

As part of this curriculum, students will:

  • Identify social problems
  • Analyze the root causes
  • Develop a product, service or campaign to address a social need

Within the next year, BUILD anticipates reaching tens-of-thousands of students through open-source content, with additional resources and supports in place for first-generation students of color from under-resourced communities—our core demographic. Our long-term goal is to reach millions of students globally to promote education equity and disrupt generational poverty through the power of entrepreneurship. BUILD2

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of "normal" life as we know it. It's also brought into sharp focus the massive racial and economic inequities we have lived with for far too long. More than ever, it’s essential that we all work together in new digital environments to overcome these challenges while maintaining social and emotional learning (SEL). Now with COVID, BUILD feels an obligation to close the opportunity gap and drive toward digital equity by providing dynamic and rigorous online educational experiences for youth in marginalized communities.

Meet Some of BUILD’s Brilliant Youth Entrepreneurs

Meet Luke from BUILD Peninsula Luke- BUILD- PW

Picture 1: Luke, first from the left, presenting with his 11th grade team in December 2019. Picture 2: Storyboard prototype for Luke’s solution for Niko.

Luke is a Senior at Woodside HS and has been in BUILD for 4 years. He lives in Redwood City, CA, with his mother, a local entrepreneur who runs a small business. He has aspirations in the arts and culinary fields. During COVID he has had an increasingly hard time feeling motivated and engaged in online learning.

Luke was one of the first students to participate in the Virtual Design Challenge. He was immediately hooked when he met Niko. One of the clients he connected with because of his Filipino background and artistic flair. The problem he is solving is Niko’s desire for connection to others that can continue through his love of music and hobby/part time work as a DJ. He created an exciting online collaboration concept similar to Iron Chef. Niko and his friends and those like them would receive a clip of music and create a composition that includes that clip and can be shared in COVID safe environment. One of Luke’s biggest insights was strong relationships with his mentors and volunteers while creating innovative designs and concepts. He expanded his entrepreneurial skills by learning to storyboard, a process that was particularly well suited for his artistic talents.

Meet Lourdes (Lulu) from BUILD Oakland Lulu-BUILD-PW

Lulu, second from the left, with her 11th grade team and mentor in March 2019

Lulu is a senior at a BUILD high school in East Oakland and an aspiring ethnic studies educator. Lulu lives with her grandmother and three siblings. A key challenge for her during COVID has been balancing time between family and school. Since she’s the oldest she has increased responsibilities at home including childcare and doing more support for her grandmother who is aging. Another challenge for her has been learning how to advocate for her own needs and find the passion and drive for school during this time.

Lulu and her team developed one of the most innovative and emotionally powerful solutions during our first pilot of BUILD’s COVID-19 Virtual Design Challenge in Oakland, CA, last May. Working to meet the needs of Benjamin, a frontline healthcare worker feeling isolated from family and friends, they designed a concept for tech-driven wristbands for family members of frontline workers. Their team created an animation highlighting the purpose and functionality of their product which can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/o9xqMdo-3Nc. Their mentor helped guide students in focusing on their client’s needs and applying their talent for stop animation to their prototype and pitch.