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“Are they here yet?  Are they here yet?” This question rang on repeat on the morning of Saturday, March 8th in the SAP South San Francisco office as excited volunteers waited for two buses filled with local high school students to descend on our offices. They were on their way to SAP to participate in a Youth Innovator Hackathon with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.

Students came from all backgrounds and six different high schools to participate. For many of them this was the first time they had been in a cutting edge tech company facility, they were snapping photos and talking about how much they want to work in a company like SAP. Throughout the day these students proved to be creative, driven and passionate despite the fact that most will be the first in their family to go to college. The diversity in the room was incredible, many students recently came to the US, some were from multi-generational homes and many were from families living below the poverty line.

We wanted this day to compliment the work that NFTE students are already doing in their classrooms. They are all in the process of creating businesses and developing business plans which they will take into competitions (competitions SAP supports in six US markets). However the goal of the day was to take that model and flip it - instead of coming up with a business idea, we wanted the students to identify a problem first…and then solve it with technology. This flip in entrepreneurial thinking is a big conceptual shift, to go from making money to making change. Throughout the day these students would wear a new hat, that of a Social  Entrepreneur.

The day was full of post-it notes, ideating and prototyping, sound familiar? You guessed it. These students were led through the design thinking process to develop their ideas. First students self-selected a topic: healthcare, education or environment. Then they were randomly put onto teams to develop the idea for an app to solve a problem related to the topic. Each team had a mentor, either from Stanford (MBA program or D School) or SAP. These mentors coached the students through the ideation process, and within an hour all 18 teams had the problem they were addressing, who their audience was and what the functionality of the app would be.  Ideas ranged from new commuter carpooling connections, to a healthy food delivery service which could be run out of corner stores, to an app which cuts through the noise of the scholarship search to match student’s scholarships with a profile they create. Each team pitched their idea to a pair of judges while their proud mentors watched. The two minute pitch had to address the following points: problem, solution, app functionality, target market, user acquisition strategy and a demo of the solution.

SAP volunteer ambassador and co-lead for Latinos@SAP, Alejandro Barajas, during a rare break said, “These kids are so passionate and smart, I can barely keep up! It’s exciting to be going through this process with them and watching them challenge themselves!” His team developed an app called Bagel, which helps keep high school students with diabetes more healthy and informed about their diagnosis. This stemmed from a student in the group who has multiple family members living with the disease.

Six teams pitched to the entire room of about 100 on-lookers. These students were inspired. They were empowered to solve real societal challenges and they were doing that. The excitement in the room when the winners were announced was insane. The winning team, Watir, created an app to educate consumers on water usage and encourage them to use it in an efficient and cost-effective way. Check out this 90 second video of the winning team being announced.

When was the last time we saw that kind of energy in our offices, on our teams and in our professional lives? I say not often enough. The more we can collaborate with and bring students into our offices to share this energy, the better. Each ‘adult’ in the room was energized and inspired by the ideas these students have. If this is what the future holds, I say SAP should be doing all that we can to get them in our doors and exposed to us a company. It is with these students and young people that our future depends. And right now, I think, that’s a great place to be.

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