How YouthHack Happened: Behind the Scenes of YouthHack Philadelphia “Shark Tank” Challenge 2015

By David Ongchoco C’18, Co-founder of ThirdEye and YouthHack

Editor’s note: Wharton Entrepreneurship was a proud sponsor of YouthHack Philadelphia.

Last April 26, 2015, about thirty or so high school students got the opportunity to dive into the startup world at the YouthHack Philadelphia “Shark Tank” Challenge 2015. The one-day startup immersion gave high school students the opportunity to hear from the likes of Scholly CEO Christopher Gray, GlassU CEO Daniel Fine (W’15), DinoEnterprise Marketing Director Johnathan Grzybowski, Schoolyard Ventures CEO Rich Sedmak, RJ Metrics COO Jake Stein (W’06), and SeventySix Capital Managing Partner Wayne Kimmel.

The YouthHack Philly Organizing Team: David Ongchoco, Dhuv Agarwal, Michelle Abigan, and Nibras Islam.
The YouthHack Philly Organizing Team: David Ongchoco, Dhuv Agarwal, Michelle Abigan, and Nibras Islam. Photo by Sabino Padilla.

How it all started

YouthHack started with the idea that high school students lacked the opportunity to turn their ideas into a reality. The inspiration actually came from my visit to the University of Pennsylvania one year ago when I was deciding on which college to attend. During my visit, I came across programs like PennApps and the Dorm Room Fund, and even got to watch the Wharton Business Plan Competition 2014; needless to say, I was inspired.

When I got back to the Philippines for my 4-month long summer break, I decided to start YouthHack Manila, and host a two-day technopreneurship challenge for high school students. Amazingly, the second place team ended up pursuing their idea even after the two-day event, winning a Harvard Competition and flying to the US to pitch at Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard and of course, Wharton.

I helped arrange a meeting with Wharton Social Entrepreneurship Professor Ian MacMillan. It was that moment when they pitched to Professor MacMillan and a subsequent conversation with Professor MacMillan about the Philadelphia High School education system that pushed me to expand YouthHack to Philadelphia.

While in the next few months college life would start to get really busy, it was still at the back of my mind that I wanted to organize at least a one-day event before my freshman year ended. As the end of the semester approached, I didn’t think it was possible anymore but it was a phone call with Philadelphia Suns Youth organization representative and a meeting with Drexel University’s Close School of Entrepreneurship Director Chuck Sacco that pushed me to make it happen.

Planning for YouthHack Philly 2015

With less than a month left before our target date for YouthHack Philadelphia, I started thinking whether or not it would be possible to actually make the event happen. But a few hundred emails to potential speakers and sponsors, cold calls to Philadelphia high schools, random Facebook messages to Philadelphia high school students, and meetings with the YouthHack team later—and the YouthHack Philadelphia “Shark Tank” Challenge 2015 was underway. Or so I thought.

While I was lucky enough that all the entrepreneurs and venture capitalists that I had invited were more than willing to speak at and support our event, our initial planned venue had to back out one week before the event due to logistical reasons. At that moment, I actually wasn’t sure of what to do. While thoughts of just postponing or cancelling the event popped into my mind, I decided to give it one last shot—I mean you miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take right?

I called up Dhruv Agarwal (ENG’18), one of the YouthHack Philly team members, and we created a spreadsheet of places and people we could contact. To our dismay, a lot of the rooms at Penn were booked already and the ones that weren’t, required us to pay $205 for visual support. The co-working spaces we called up also charged a good amount to host events in their space. I was running out of ideas.

With no money, midterm exams and other commitments on my plate, I was ready to call it a day when I got an email reply from DreamIt Ventures Programs Head Melissa Koenig, who introduced me to their Recruiting Head Jodie Sweitzer. I got on the phone with Jodie and was ecstatic to find out that the current DreamIt batch was in San Francisco during that weekend due to demo days and that she wouldn’t mind if we used the venue for our event—it was the most relieved and happiest feeling I got this semester; YouthHack Philadelphia was happening!

Empowering the bright young minds of tomorrow

As the event got underway, I felt a deep sense of fulfillment as high school students walked in and got the opportunity to hear from and interact with the experienced entrepreneurs and venture capitalists we brought in.

The day ended with high school students getting to pitch their own ideas to Penn Center for Innovation Director Tomas Isakowitz, DinoEnterprise Marketing Director Khai Tran and Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship Executive Director Sylvia McKinney.

The best part in all this was that as each student made their way towards the exit after a long day of entrepreneurship inspiration, they came up to me, thanking me for inspiring them to pursue their ideas, and for helping them realize that you’re never too young to chase your dreams and make an impact. It’s moments like these that inspire me to continue building YouthHack and expanding the programs we offer to empower youth all over the world.

This is just one baby step towards that direction, but it’s a big one in terms of what I learned. Things will go wrong, you will face obstacles, but if you try hard enough, reach out to the right people and remember why you do things in the first place, things often do work out.

I’d just like take this opportunity to thank Wharton Entrepreneurship, Drexel Entrepreneurship and DreamIt Ventures for partnering with us for the event, and to DinoEnterprise for agreeing to help build the prototype for the ideas of the top three teams.

I’d also like to thank all the speakers, judges and participants. Finally, thank you to the 3 other members of the organizing team (Shout-out to Dhruv Agarwal, Michelle Abigan C’18, and Nibras Islam) and the volunteers who came; without you guys, this event wouldn’t have been possible.

To learn more about YouthHack, watch the recap video, visit the website and like the Facebook page.

David smBio: David is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the founder of YouthHack and has worked on several different startup projects. He regularly contributes for top publications like the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the Huffington Post. During his free time, he likes blogging at Currently the CMO of ThirdEye, David hopes to one day bring one of his startup projects to the IPO level and become a venture capitalist afterwards.