World renowned start-up incubator, Y Combinator, hosted a special Match Event to kickoff our Think Big Futures Initiative — designed to support college and career readiness with innovative approaches to mentorship practices. The match event, “Afternoon with Founders,” was sponsored by Silicon Valley Bank to provide staff, Bigs, and Littles an opportunity to hear from Y-C alumni about their experiences.
The group convened to tell personal stories and share insights (the founders are in “stealth” mode, not ready to launch to the public, so we won’t share their names, but we can share their valuable experiences). As founders, staff and interns from Harvard, Princeton and Boston College gave introductions, one of our middle school Littles, Shane, followed, starting to describe himself, saying “there’s nothing interesting about me.” His Big, Tim, kindly interjected, telling the group that his Little is an incredibly accomplished student. Shane straightened up in his chair. The power of having someone who believes in a young person’s potential was immediately evident.
Surrounding yourself with people who believe in you and how that intersects with believing in yourself was a constant part of conversation. Speaking about their own startups, founders were asked “ What would you do differently?” One female founder noted, “There are many young, smart men who are very confident and have the room to fail. So confidence is an important point.” Initially she felt as thought she didn’t belong in the tech industry (echoed by other women and people of color), but she knew that her idea was worthy of attention and that there were others who believed in her.
Another female founder advised, before starting a business, “Talk to people and your customer before buying a domain name or building out the technology.” Her business partner shared his frustration of creating a startup in college but not being able to find a co-founder. Now his technical skills are well matched with his partner’s marketing and human resource know-how. “Being in a space where there are other innovators makes all the difference,” he insisted.
Agreeing with this premise of needing to be part of a supportive community, a founder added “Iʼd change one thing: to have the right people to work with.” Y Combinator staff further encouraged young people to “Learn to work with other people on projects youʼre interested in. If youʼre looking for things to work on or hack on just look around and see what needs to be fixed.”
The issue of representation was front and center, with a Y Combinator staffer admitting “I didnʼt have anyone that looked like me” so she had to find her own path and resources. One of our Bigs, Michelle, explicitly asked the group to share resources for her Little. Recommendations for kids interested in tech included:
- Juni Learning
- Girls Who Code
- Black Girls Who Code
- Kapor Center Projects
- Code Combat
- Hack the Hood
The founders wanted to know how they and the local tech industry might get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Anthony Spivey, Program Director, described the time and commitment needed, along with available support and lifelong, positive outcomes. Priya Rajan, Director of Early Stage Practice at Silicon Valley Bank, and Big Brothers Bigs Sisters Board Member, added “we really need more Big Brothers” looking straight at the men in the room. Dawn, our CEO, confirmed “especially in the South Bay. If you know men, men of color… many boys are on our waiting list.”