A teen's tribute to the Delaware orgs guiding her along the startup path - Technical.ly Delaware

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Aug. 29, 2019 7:53 pm

A teen’s tribute to the Delaware orgs guiding her along the startup path

"I understand now that living in Delaware is an incredible part of who I am," writes Dorcas Olatunji. Here's how eight organizations, including Dual School, TeenSHARP and Great Dames, have shaped her future.
Dorcas Olatunji.

Dorcas Olatunji.

(Courtesy photo)

This is a guest post by technologist Dorcas Olatunji. Find her "My First" series here.
It took me a while to become the Dorcas Olatunji I am today.

The failures, successes, self doubts, all-nighters and hallelujahs all brought me here. I found my path through the world of entrepreneurship, which I never knew wounald play such a large role in my life.

My first exposure into the world of risk was my sophomore year, and through a number of organizations that helped me get to the next places on my uncharted map. My entrepreneurial journey begins with Dual School, and continues in the present time through the State of Delaware.

This is a tribute to eight powerful and innovative organizations that shaped who I am now.

Dual School: The Initiator

When I think about the first moment I started my entrepreneurial path, I can always go back to the 10 weeks my perception of learning transformed, thanks to Dual School.

At the end of the summer before my freshman year, August 2017, I had an identity crisis about what the next three years of my high school experience at the Charter School of Wilmington would look like. Then, through the project-based learning program at 1313 Innovation, I developed and worked on a project addressing prejudgment — or preconceived notions about others in an environment — in my school and made an activity-based curriculum for homerooms.

My decision to participate in Dual School was an early way to identify my weaknesses and grow from them. From my Dual School experience with project-based learning and rapid prototyping, I learned the intricacies of networking, presenting my ideas, and experiencing defeats and victories.

A year and a half later, Dual School also offered me my first paid internship, for which I pitched a project I called Adventure to digitize the Dual School program format. Adventure was a way to create a bridge of engagement between the community and the students engaging in the program.

Zack Jones, the director of Dual School, invited me back to 1313 Innovation to pitch my idea, and later to plan out what I wanted to accomplish in the three months of the internship. That project was like a reenactment of my Dual School days, and was again completely self designed. I decided to conduct research for my first month, then began building prototypes and finding existing solutions aligned with my desired end platform. At the end of this past May, I had a 40-page document full of research, reviews and ideation of my three-month internship, all completed during the last lap of my junior year.

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In sum: Dual School opened the door for my intellectual curiosity and provided me a new way of thinking outside the traditional education system.

Author Dorcas Olatunji presents at Dual School’s exhibition night. (Photo courtesy of Dorcas Olatunji)

TeenSHARP: The Intellectual Curiosity

Around the same time as Dual School, I also joined the TeenSHARP community my sophomore year. My time in TeenSHARP’s College Access Program, while only one year, gave me invaluable tools.

During that year, the program also required every student to take two University of Delaware courses and provided an entrepreneurship class for the first 15 students to sign up. The two supplemental courses were “Black Thought and Philosophy” and “Race/Ethnicity: Theories & Applications,” and the entrepreneurship course was “Ideas to Action.” In these three courses, all of the professors were Black, and it was a great experience to be taught by someone who looked like me.

At the culmination of the entrepreneurship course, taught by Garry Johnson and James Massaquoi, I embarked on my first startup idea with my twin sister, Deborah Olatunji. Though that idea eventually evaporated, the experience led me to find the Diamond Challenge startup competition.

My year in TeenSHARP changed my perspective of how well I could manage my time and taught me information outside of the typical sophomore curriculum.

GripTape: The Supporter

Back in December, I started a learning challenge through GripTape, a national student learning collaborative. I worked on the idea of teenage independence, and that led me to devise a carpooling solution that eventually became , or transforming transportation. Through this program, I learned about taking control of my learning and began what they called a Learning Challenge.

I wanted to create a database of people with carpooling needs who would benefit from my idea, t². I hypothesized using an algorithm or some form of smart technology that could be used to easily match people and create a more efficient community. I did not think that it would be too complicated to put together, but during my three-month journey, I found it difficult to make actual progress, or research the other people who may have already started to do something similar, so I would not have to reinvent the wheel.

After my three-month Griptape Learning Challenge ended in February, though, I actually started to get more invested in my project and tried to run a simulation of my idea through my school’s sports team in March 2018.

The Griptape Learning Challenge taught me about managing a business, being an entrepreneur, and building a supportive network.

TrafficCast: The Confidence

At the end of my sophomore year, one of the reasons I kickstarted t², my community carpooling venture, was because of the innovation pitch competition TrafficCast held last summer in June. I became one of six finalists, the youngest participant at 15, and a winner of the third-place prize.

This moment in my life was the first actual push from an audience motivating me to achieve my goals. The seed money I received gave me the confidence to leap further with my idea. I was not sure where I wanted the idea to go, but I knew I wanted it to be a part of my life and that I could impact even just one person with my proposed solution.

TrafficCast gave the the hope that my idea could go somewhere, and the stage for my first solo pitch competition (and win!).

Left to right: TrafficCast CEO Al McGowan with first-place winner Raghav Hardas, second-place winner Katrice Williams-Dredden and third-place winner Dorcas Olatunji. (Photo courtesy of TrafficCast)

YMCA: The Elevator

The YMCA of Delaware has been an incredible resource I only recently got involved in my sophomore year. Ever since making the choice to participate in its Youth in Government (YIG) program last winter, it has heavily impacted my passions and life.

At my first YIG conference, I jumped in without an instruction manual. We were paired up and assigned a Supreme Court case, with which we had to argue both sides as either the petitioner or the respondent. Appellate law was something new to me, but it excited me in a way I never expected.

At the awards part of the April 2018 conference, after a weekend of rounds arguing and asking questions as student justices, I took home Top Attorney, Best Petitioner Brief, and a nomination for the National Judicial Competition (NJC) for the coming summer.

(Photo courtesy of Dorcas Olatunji)

In shock at this news, I realized the merits of trying different activities. That summer at NJC, I made it to the showcase round as an associate justice and later took the title of the national associate justice. The couple of days in Chicago made me desire to continue to find more opportunities within the YMCA. I even joined the Youth Leadership Committee that summer to make the judicial branch stronger for the year to come.

Being in the committee also opened the door to exclusive opportunities. In November I was chosen to represent Delaware at the YMCA’s National Youth Advocacy Days, which was a three-month training period that ended with a couple days representing the Y on Capitol Hill. Being involved in the YIG Leadership Committee for my state exposed me to helping middle schoolers exploring governmental pursuits, collaboration and enrichment from my peers in the committee, and using my social skills to get more people involved in the YMCA.

After this past April’s conference, I was elected the 2020 chief justice, aka the head of the judicial branch for Delaware, and I am incredibly honored to emulate and create my own case with the examples of the leaders that have gone on before me. Finally, this August, I will be journeying to London for the YMCA’s 175th anniversary celebration with the YMCA of Delaware’s new Global Teen program. I was chosen to be the spokesperson for the trip and have since been participating in various trainings in preparation.

If I had decided against trying YIG, I never would have known how much the YMCA would mean to me. My Y story is one I will continue to tell as time goes on, I am forever grateful for its programs and dedication to youth.

The YMCA afforded me the opportunity to expand my interests in law, to sharpen my advocacy skills, and to travel to places and make connections with people from all around the world.

Technical.ly: The Megaphone

Writing was something I thought I would never see myself doing. In February of this year, I started my writing journey about my entrepreneurial experiences.

(Photo courtesy of Dorcas Olatunji)

In addition to effectively informing me about the Delaware technology space, Technical.ly also gave me the incredible opportunity to be on the other side of the screen. Writing for Technical.ly these past few months opened my eyes to the stories I can share about my experiences in order to help the next teen entrepreneur, or anyone interested in getting into the startup space.

I first thought to reach out to reporter Holly Quinn about a writing internship, and she led me to the person who edited this piece and all of the other articles read on Technical.ly Delaware, Julie Zeglen. Through the opportunity to write about my experiences, I reflect on moments that seemed so trivial and new at the time. I can share my stories and ideas from my present and past perspectives in a digital source that could be beneficial to someone, no matter their age or stage in the game.

From this incredible resource, I learned about networking, entrepreneurship, community innovation and so much more. I hope to continue writing for Technical.ly in the future and be that source for that reader out there who may need some guidance from my past experiences.

Great Dames: The Ignitor

From the excitement of my first pitch competition with TrafficCast, I was ready to jump in again to see how far t² could go. At that point in September, I had ideas and intensive research around t², but I wanted to find numerous pitch competitions and resources that would point me in some direction.

I took a deep dive again into the world of pitching and developing my skill set as an entrepreneur. Through the Great Dames community, I found a youth pitch competition and took first place. In my award package, of the most value was the network I became apart of, through mentorship and networking events. My project grew over the six months with my mentor, until I decided to put it on the shelf for the time being.

The Great Dames environment welcomed and embraced me, a young woman, and gave me role models like its founder, Sharon Kelly Hake, to look up to. The community has truly been an invaluable resource to a young and growing entrepreneur.

The Great Dames community gave me the ultimate community to grow and learn from, a mentor to support my ideas, and support to push my ideas further.

Dorcas Olatunji with Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester at a Great Dames event. (Photo courtesy of Dorcas Olatunji)

Board of Education: The Seat at the Table

I used to think that Delaware did not have anything to offer me. When I traveled for the programs mentioned above, I would be envious of others from my birth state, New York, thinking of the adventures I could have if only I lived somewhere else. I understand now that living in Delaware is an incredible part of who I am.

I only thought Delaware did not have anything, because I was not looking for anything. Realizing my passions in advocacy and entrepreneurship my sophomore year, it became my compass for finding various opportunities that were right in front of me.

I was given the opportunity recently to serve on Delaware’s Board of Education as its first-ever student representative. This incredible honor would not have occurred without the lessons I learned from the above organizations. I also recognized how vital a quality education is for students everywhere. Attending the Charter School of Wilmington opened a few doors, but not all of them. It has given me a quality education, but has also taught me to seek outside of the curriculum and create the transcript of my own — one that does not necessary have to have a grade on it.

I hope through my new role, I can invite students from a diversity of thought, school, and perspective to the table on how to improve our education system. For too long students have been on the menu, and not at the table. In the coming months, I hope to be a channel of the ideas to enhance Delaware public education.

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My entrepreneurial experiences, both good and bad, would not have been made possible without the support from all of these incredible organizations. And of course, it would be remiss not to recognize the people behind these incredible organizations — more on that later.

My network expanded because of the work, ideas, and mentors in these programs that decided it best to invest in me and my ideas. My advice from these experience goes back to the importance of networking, mentorship and passion. I simply would not be who I am today without the influence of these eight powerful and innovative organizations.

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