Starting out with startups: Teens go pro at entrepreneurship boot camp

Courtesy of Swati Sinha
Local middle and high school students learn the art of pitching at a nonprofit boot camp for young entrepreneurs. The Los Altos sessions, hosted at First Republic Bank, are organized by Silicon Valley Coders.


Nesyah Galatin, an eighth-grader at Blach Intermediate School, acted as CEO of an imaginary company called The Midas Touch. She collaborated with her chief financial officer, Sidharth Dharmasanam, a seventh-grader at Egan Junior High, to create a fundraising pitch for their invention, an attachment they designed to keep an umbrella from flipping inside out during a storm.

The two middle schoolers learned how to make a pitch in less than five minutes at the Entrepreneurship Boot Camp hosted by the Los Altos chapter of Silicon Valley Coders, a South Bay nonprofit organization that helps local youth learn how to launch startup ventures.

Nesyah and Sidharth, along with 24 other middle and high school students, attended the free boot camp in the conference room of First Republic Bank in Los Altos last fall. The boot camp ran six sessions on Sunday afternoons.

For the spring semester, the boot camp is expected to include 10 sessions, also on Sunday afternoons, starting Jan. 28, at the same location.

Building a business plan

Nesyah said the boot camp gave her a type of education she had found nowhere else.

"I’ve learned from the camp how to start a company from the ground up, from building a team to devising a business plan to pitching it in front of venture capitalists. How many 14-year-olds can say that?" she said.

Nesyah thinks the boot camp also helped her do better in school because it sharpened her research, writing, math, engineering and public-speaking skills.

Sidharth expressed a similar view of the camp.

"Learning how to build a business plan was useful, but even more than that was developing an idea by working with people I’ve never met before," he said.

According to Sidharth, when first exposed to developing a business plan, most people assume that the hardest part is creating an effective PowerPoint presentation and an interesting pitch.

"But surprisingly," he said, "the most complex part was trying to listen to others’ ideas and integrate them into your own. It really was a great experience."

Launching a startup

The umbrella enhancement Nesyah and Sidharth came up with was one of the business ideas the 26 boot camp participants generated through teamwork, with two to four members per team, said Swati Sinha, founder of the Los Altos chapter of Silicon Valley Coders.

A Los Altos resident, Sinha works full time as a marketing professional but squeezes hours from her busy schedule to cultivate entrepreneurship in local students.

"Knowing how to run a business is a basic need for people in any profession," she said. "That’s why I created this boot camp for kids in my community. I believe it will be helpful for their future."

Jonathan Luk, who sent his son, Michael, and daughter, Isabel, to the boot camp, said the Entrepreneurship Boot Camp is an excellent opportunity for aspiring youth to learn the key concepts of how to organize business ideas and develop a thorough and compelling business plan.

"Our son and daughter gained great experience from working on small teams to refine their plans and present in front of a local 'Shark Tank' of successful businessmen plus peers and parents," he said. "We look forward to seeing them continue the journey in the next phase as they attempt to turn their plans into reality."

Michael Luk said he would recommend the boot camp to his peers.

"The entire experience was nerve-racking and exciting," he said. "It made us feel like we were selling our idea and working alongside an investor. It was a very exciting experience, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who can make it."

Participants in the spring boot camp can opt to create product prototypes and compete. Two winning teams will have the opportunity to attend Silicon Valley’s annual Tech Day, scheduled June 9, to showcase their projects, Sinha said.

"It’s a wonderful opportunity for the startup teams to hear from industry leaders and Silicon Valley executives, learn about upcoming technology trends and hear innovative business plans at this third annual youth-focused conference," she said.

For more information on the Entrepreneurship Boot Camp, email Swati Sinha at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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