High-school hackathons empower ‘teenpreneurs’

A person standing in front of a green leafy tree.

As a child, Nathaniel Diong was troubled by the realisation that he had food, shelter and a good education when other children went without. He wanted to help shape a better, fairer future.

Nathaniel went on to create Future Minds Network, a business that helps students launch startups with social impact.

His passion project soon blossomed into a fully-fledged startup accelerator. He’s now running hackathons for high schools, and even exploring opportunities to scale his business interstate and internationally.

In July, Nathaniel took part in the Melbourne Global Innovation Program, a program designed to help young people who identify as Aboriginal, first generation, migrant, refugee or female start and grow their businesses.

Run by the City of Melbourne and the Hacker Exchange (HEX), the program culminated with a pitch day where each attendee presented their idea to a panel of judges.

‘Growing up, I was always fed the narrative that young people were the “future leaders of tomorrow” and we could “change the world”,’ Nathaniel said.

‘Yet we were never given an opportunity to speak, campaign, or create. If young people were the future leaders of tomorrow, why weren’t we training them for the future, today?

‘It all clicked when I found entrepreneurship. This was a canvas where I could create the change I wanted to see in the world. This is where Future Minds Network was born.’

Getting ready for the ‘future of work’

Through actively building students’ startup ideas, and offering engaging masterclasses led by inspiring mentors, Future Minds Network also teaches teenagers key ‘enterprise’ skills they need to thrive in the highly-automated workplaces of the future.These skills include creativity, problem-solving, and cognitive flexibility.

‘The “future of work” is changing and education isn’t keeping up. In 10 years, 2.8 million young Australians need to be significantly reskilled because they aren’t career-ready,’ Nathaniel said.

‘While automation can replace knowledge and technical skills, it can’t replace human or ‘enterprise’ skills, and the best way to ensure young people have these skills is through learning by doing.

‘The process of entrepreneurship that students experience in our hackathons pushes them to embrace new ways of thinking to solve problems.’

About the Melbourne Global Innovation Program

Nathaniel said his favourite parts of the Melbourne Global Innovation Program were the fresh perspectives shared, learning from startup experts, and – above all – the community.

‘We got to hear from superstars all over the world working at Google, Zendesk and YCombinator (the birthplace of Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit), and generally had a great time,’ Nathaniel said.

‘It helps that the whole HEX team are all-round great people and rays of sunshine! They were really great at delivering the content in new and exciting ways, while pushing you to think from different angles. It’ll definitely help us all to continue growing and teaching.’

Nathaniel Diong’s four top tips for emerging entrepreneurs

1. Just try, and don’t fixate on success

The end goal should never be success. It should be to experiment. From there, what happens is a mixture of fate, inner drive and attitude.

Remember, everyone in life gets dealt a different hand of cards, so focus on what you can control, and remember that these cards can always be shuffled.

2. Focus on the problem, not the solution

A good product or service always lies in the problem that you’re solving. If you fall in love with the solution over your problem you will fail, because customer needs are constantly changing.

If you can understand your problem deeply, you can tailor your services directly to the customer. You might even be able to predict changes in their needs before they even happen.

3. Don’t rush, and focus on your wellbeing

Timing is extremely important. Sometimes you might have it all figured out, but the market just isn’t right for you. That’s not your fault.

Remember there is still time to succeed, and just be kind to yourself. Your self worth isn’t determined by your success. You are an awesome human being. Take your time to make something that matters.

4. Pivot and persevere

The whole journey is about the pivot or persevere. If the solution sells itself, persevere and strike at the right timing. If it doesn’t, pivot and focus on a more painful problem.

Find out more

Nathaniel is keen to collaborate with schools, educators and students. Find out more at Future Minds Network.

Other participants of the Melbourne Global Innovation Program are working on an app to manage chronic pain, a digital platform to build community among women of colour working in STEM, and more. Find out more in the pitch video.

The program is just one of the many ways we are supporting startups and innovation in our city. To find out more, visit Startups and innovation.

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