Vicky Wu Davis and Youth CITIES were introduced to me through a brief presentation at my school’s morning meeting last January. Although I was intrigued by the thought of entering an entrepreneurial competitive program, I was completely unaware of how much it would impact my life and ambitions. I was urged by the Academic Dean to pursue Youth CITIES, and so I attended the Kick-off Reception with reservations about whether it would be worth my time. Immediately I was thrown into Vicky’s warm and welcoming network of highly-influential entrepreneurs and successful public figures. The hospitality and humor of Vicky and her colleagues convinced me that Youth CITIES was something really special.
In class, we learned more than just the terminology and strategies of creating a business, but we were challenged each time with a public speaking portion of the class. Although I was fairly confident in my ability to speak in front of my peers, I was consistently pushed outside of my comfort zone by pursuing an uncommon business idea – golf. Most importantly, I was challenged each week with the task of selling this idea to my own classmates. Every Saturday, I met a new face in my always-impressive instructor, and got to experiment with ideas in a safe and relaxed setting. In Youth CITIES, my classmates always cheered me on, being that supportive group who knew exactly what I was going through. My teachers were an amazing source of guidance; one Saturday after the lesson, working on homework, I called over my instructor David with a sudden lack of confidence in the plausibility of my venture, and he said to me, “Never limit yourself. Open your mind to every possibility, or else you will only hold yourself back.”
Ultimately, the most commanding force of wisdom was Vicky, my mentor, mother hen, and friend. Vicky was effortless in her abilities to inspire and challenge every student, and through it all she kept us entertained with her youthful nature and sense of humor. As the weeks went by, my faith that Youth CITIES would impact my life beyond high school and even college transcended any project or venture; the coaching and friendship of Vicky Wu Davis is the reason Youth CITIES will stick with me for a long time. Vicky started as someone I wanted to impress each week to someone I now can count on for some much needed sagacity and humor. She is a force in my life that goes way beyond the role of program instructor. I hope to have Vicky Wu Davis with her unyielding commitment and positivity as a part of my life as I grow up to find my own professional as well as social role in the world. If I ever need a reality check, or a good story, or someone to fiercely advocate on my behalf, I reach out to Vicky. Vicky sees something in me that I did not believe was more than a simple sense of ambition and a drive to set myself apart from most young people. Youth CITIES and Vicky Wu Davis not only gave me the business opportunities that I am now grateful to have, but they also provided me with a sense of identity that I am proud of. For all of my successes in the past 6 months and all of my future successes, I thank Youth CITIES and most importantly Vicky Wu Davis.
I was a sophomore when I participated in Youth CITIES. I took advanced placement classes, was involved in student government, community services, and did extracurricular activities such as sports, drama, and youth group at my church. I not only wanted personal success, but also success for those in my neighborhood as well. I wanted to graduate high school with honors and go on to study journalism, business, or engineering.
As an alum, I can say that the intensive classes I went through my sophomore year have opened up a new world for me. To be honest, before Youth CITIES, I was not familiar with anything about business, not mission statements, not networking, not executive summaries. I learned a ton during the classes, and I worked on the homework as best as I could. When I didn’t understand, Vicky and the rest of the mentors were always a phone call away. In the beginning, I could have quit on my idea, but I knew Vicky had expectations for us and I eventually realized my idea could exist in the real world. As the program went on, I was challenged to apply what I learned to an idea that began to live and breathe on its own.
With support from Vicky and several advisors, I was prepared enough to win the judges over and take home the $1,500 seed grant in 2009. My project, a good newspaper about my beloved city Lawrence called “What’s Good in the Hood”, is doing well. I’m proud to say that the skills ingrained in me during those early Saturday mornings are now a normal part of my life. They come in especially handy as I’m part of the express Yourself Project a product of my friend Lucy’s dream to put together a fashion show. As an executive for her own non-profit effort, we no longer talk about boys and t.v. Instead our conversations inevitably steer towards budgets, business models, and breaking even. Although I get asked all the time whether its worth taking on the stress of these projects along with school, and extracurriculars, I can’t help but think that this is what I should be doing. Not only are we setting ourselves up for college, but we are examples to others with creative minds. Through “What’s Good in the Hood”, I’ve met so many kids with similar goals, not just in Lawrence but some from Boston as well. It’s encouraging to know that programs like this are empowering kids with the tools to shape their futures.
After I won, I used my skills to sustain What’s Good in the Hood, and even help other youth with their ventures. Youth CITIES empowered me to believe in my ideas and equipped me with the tools to make them real. These are skills I continue using in years to come. Through What’s Good in the Hood, I developed leadership skills that have gotten me far. I made many connections that allowed me to write for local papers and blogs, I established a vast network of local organizations and businesses in the city that that supported “What’s Good in the Hood”, and subsequently other projects I have been involved with. As a result, I built a sturdy resume that I believe got me into college.
I am writing to offer much deserved praise and gratitude to Vicky Wu Davis and the Youth CITIES entrepreneurship program she has created. I direct a non-profit, the Youth Development Organization that, for the last seven years, has offered out of school time enrichment experiences to talented students in Lawrence, MA. Three years ago, I met with Vicky when she was preparing to launch the first Youth CITIES. She had planned an ambitious program and was looking to engage dynamic young people. We jumped in, enrolling dozens of our students during the three years Youth CITIES has been offered.
What has happened? Youth CITIES has been the most important leadership experience for our high school kids, students we have sponsored as the strength of their community. Our kids have been invited to take their own ideas seriously, to move through a rigorous process that turns their ideas into plans, their plans to a pitch, and ultimately their pitch to a genuine project. Our students, nervous and excited, challenged and respected, have lit up at the opportunity to make something happen. The YDO students who have come through Youth CITIES have found their voice as leaders, returning to Lawrence to start important projects, Gladys organizing, attracting student journalists to produce What’s Good in the Hood, Kaylee and Nelly organizing, funding and leading Victorious Writers, an expression experience for elementary school students, Aguedo, Jerisson and Tony, launching a computer tech program. And Rayza and Ellemiek, and Nalyn all pushing forward the initiatives they developed at Youth CITIES.
Why has this program been so effective? Vicky has assembled a roster of mentor/instructors who personify the best values the program aspires to instill. They are passionate about thinking things through and open to interaction with our students. They have brought real world experience and shared with our students the enthusiasm for shaping a good idea that has kept our kids open to challenging questions. But the key ingredient is Vicky, who believes in the process and believes in the students. Vicky asks a great deal from the students and receives their best efforts because she constantly fortifies them with personal attention and genuine delight in their participation. She invites their questions, makes herself accessible, relentlessly communicates. All our students know they have been engaged and respected.
For so many of our YDO students, Youth CITIES has been a crucial portal into an adult world. We are always looking for the best ways to help our students grow into their strengths. For our young leaders, Youth CITIES has been the best way.
I first heard of Youth CITIES through its first year winner Gladys Gitau who told me that it was a “Program for kids who want to make a difference in the world.” After the success of Glady Gitaus’ venture, Whats Good In the Hood , I became intrigued and decided to check out how Youth CITIES was and how it operated. Upon attending the second year finalist presentation I was amazed at how well thought out the presentations were. The students were all knew what they were talking about and could answer any question asked to them by the judges on the spot, they showed signs of educated individuals.
After completing the Youth CITIES course I have learned that it takes more to be an entrepreneur then just business skills. The classes were packed with intense exercises both in business and networking skills. Each class presented the students with a new teacher who themselves were entrepreneurs and had gone through the hardships of launching a company themselves. Each teacher specialized on a different lesson which ranged from balancing an account to interacting with strangers who may yield benefits to ones venture idea. The instructors were always friendly and taught the class at a pace that all information could be honed and memorized. At the beginning it may seem like thinking of a functioning and possible venture may seem hard or impossible, but the class quickly realized that anything is possible as long as time and effort are put into the idea. After listening to a few guest speakers tell us about their companies and the difficulties of launching them, we all learned that dedication and persistence is required, if an idea doesn’t go as planned change it up and try again.
Vicky and the Youth CITIES instructors also taught the class to refine a skill that one would think is unimportant in the business world — networking. This program taught me that creating a network of associates and friends is important and is very beneficial in more ways than one. Even if the person may not be a direct benefit to you, they may know somebody who is allowing both to bounce contacts with each other as needed. The Cafe at the Cambridge Innovation Center, which holds the record for the most start ups in companies, provided a slice of what the life of an entrepreneur is like. After pitching my Idea with my partners to countless entrepreneurs I noticed an odd pattern, anyone we spoke to wanted to continue learning about our idea and always offered themselves as a resource as needed. It wasn’t until then that I realized that this pattern wasn’t odd at all, it was the face of a network. A community which seeks to improve the world by using each other as resources and providing help when needed.
After 10 weeks of attending Youth CITIES I never thought that my venture idea would be one of the finalist presenting, my partners and I were in disbelief when we won the $1500 grant to launch our venture Nerd Herd Techs.
Youth CITIES is unlike any other program out there, it is a conduit for youths out there to achieve their goals. “To the man who owns a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail” This program teaches us the values and skill set required to approach a situation in its own unique way. The students leave with a network, Entrepreneurial experience and education, as well as a tool set that allows different methods of ‘removing the nail.
Sophomore at Winchester High while participating at Youth CITIES
Honestly, I was hesitant about joining the March-to-May Bootcamp. Giving up my Saturday mornings was a big deal for me because it was the only day of the week I was able to sleep in. But what I found was that losing a little sleep was nothing compared to what I gained from my experience in the March-to-May Bootcamp.
Before beginning the March-to-May Bootcamp I had never considered actually becoming an entrepreneur, I barely could define the word. I learned about the March-to-May Bootcamp from attending the Youth CITIES Mini-Hacks. At these Mini-Hacks I got a taste of entrepreneurship, but when I began the Bootcamp I was immediately immersed in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Everyone I talked to at the Kick-off Reception was either an entrepreneur or an aspiring entrepreneur. The Kick-off Reception erased all of my qualms about joining the Bootcamp, I was hooked, I couldn’t wait till my first class.
I loved my Saturday morning classes. Each week brought a new task and a new aspect of entrepreneurship that was crucial for the students to know if we were to start a venture. I was constantly amazed at the people Vicky Wu Davis was able to get to come and speak to us. Each presenter had a unique, inspirational story of how they became an entrepreneur, showing me that there is no single path to success in this world. Even more astounding were the mentors, each mentor was devoted to his or her mentees. I was fortunate enough to have Sasha Hoffman as my mentor. Her advice and direction helped me create and improve my venture idea; without her guidance and weekly check-ins I would not have been able to develop my idea into what it is today. Also, I found that the homework Vicky gave us after each weekly session was perfect; it wasn’t too long yet it put to use all of the concepts we had just learned in class and allowed me to systematically better my venture idea. In addition, Vicky did an amazing job of organizing the weekly content of our classes such that they naturally fit the process one would undergo in a typical entrepreneurial project.
Leading up to the finals I wasn’t focused on winning. Truthfully I would have been fully content just completing the March-to-May Bootcamp. To me the knowledge, experience, and connections I have gained through this Bootcamp are priceless.
I don’t know what lies ahead for me in my future or that of my venture, but I know I will attribute any success of my venture to Vicky, Youth CITIES, and the March-to-May Bootcamp. Without them I would never have had the chance to develop my venture idea, and I wouldn’t have the support and guidance I am currently getting to help make my venture a reality.
7th Grade at Diamond Middle School while at Youth CITIES
When I was in 7th grade, I participated in the Youth CITIES March-to-May Bootcamp . I was an avid swimmer, and runner. I sang in a choir and stayed after school everyday to participate in Math Team, Science Olympiad, and Debate. I have been interested in many different subjects, since my elementary school years, but never once given thought on entrepreneurship and the world of business. I mean sure, I was one of those kids at fundraisers and lemonade stands earning money for our school on the hottest days of summer and spring, but I never thought I was an entrepreneur. When I came to Youth CITIES in the spring of 2013 Vicky or the ‘Mother Hen’ totally changed my mindset on entrepreneurship and what it meant to be an entrepreneur. The Wikipedia definition for an entrepreneur is, “An entrepreneur is an individual who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on financial risk to do so.” Vicky underlined risk for us, she explained it is not easy to build on an idea or a dream real and prosperous. For the idea to spread its wings and soar one must be willing to put the effort and work needed.
The Youth CITIES March-to-May Bootcamp has been an unforgettable experience. The program introduced me to the essentials of entrepreneurship. Considering the fact that one needs these skills in order to succeed in any profession, I am happy that I got involved in this program. Not only did I meet new people, I also learnt how to cope with competition, stress ,and deadlines. Just a few days after graduating from the Youth CITIES Bootcamp, I utilized the tools gained in the boot camp on a school project, earning an A+. Needless say, I will participate in the program next year. Vicky is a superb mentor with boundless energy and extraordinary commitment to make a difference.
Father of Youth CITIES student
I am writing to thank you and to express my strong support for Youth CITIES. My 13 year old participated in the Med Tech program in October and November of 2013. I found that he benefitted tremendously from the program and was exposed to both peers and ideas that would have been unavailable otherwise.
As a parent of an engineering-oriented kid in the Boston area, I have struggled to find age-appropriate activities for my son. Mostly he ends up taking adult classes but lacks the connection with teens that is a very important part of the learning process. We have found few local resources that can take a motivated young person and provide them with higher level challenges in a structured class. While online resources are plentiful, this is typically not how the real world works – the human connection remains very important. Youth CITIES is the only Boston–area program I have ever seen for motivated young people in the world of technology that works alongside a regular school schedule.
While my son learned some new technology at Youth CITIES, the real skills that he gained move far beyond the purely technical. He now understands the very important link between creating something and making that something into a functional business; he cites a number of the adult speakers for helping him learn that lesson. He also has a much greater appreciation of the importance of teamwork. On his team, he was the main electronics builder, another kid led the coding effort and a third managed communications and presenting the idea. My son also got to contribute to making a brief animation of how the idea works and I know he enjoyed that quite a bit.
While my son may or may not continue with medical technology, he will almost certainly continue in the general field of engineering and design. The skills that he learned in the Youth CITIES program are highly relevant not only to his formal education but also to his development as a person and as he grows into a young professional. I hope that he can participate in another Youth CITIES program in the future.
Father of Youth CITIES student
As a scientist, I have the rare privilege of interacting with and learning from many creative minds spread across various institutions in Boston and at many other places in the U. S. and around the world. People I meet include distinguished scientists, administrators, artists, engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs and so forth. Although these people represent numerous professions, they can be grouped into only a few finite categories in terms of their success in their chosen careers, which range from the most successful to less than successful ones. While numerous factors contribute to that elusive concept – success – a few important virtues are associated with it. There are: vision, confidence and conviction in what they are doing, leadership, risk taking and salesmanship to name a few.
Most of us have received our basic education in the sciences and liberal arts, etc., and we encourage our children to involve in some extra curricular activities such as: soccer and baseball camps, taking music lessons, sign up for swimming classes, just to name a few. Children by nature are curious and imaginative. Then, how about encouraging them to develop leadership qualities and to nurture their bright ideas into big ones, as well as building financial security through entrepreneurship? We hardly pay attention to these aspects…or under rare occasions, we might ask them to get involved in garage sales or at best establish a lemonade stand!
The most essential aspect of one’s success (at garage sale, college or any other walks of life) lies in conveying his/her ideas effectively to another individual or groups to invest their time and money to support that nascent idea in order to develop it into a viable product. Although this process of coming up with a bright idea and selling it, also called entrepreneurship, is an essential part of our lives right from our childhood; but we neglect it. In general, either we ignore entrepreneurship as an important factor to become successful in our lives, or we do not support our children, who have an aptitude in it, to become good at it. Any idea, be it in science, medicine, engineering, arts or even contesting in an election – must be sold! Ideas transform our world. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg and the like serve as shining examples of what individuals could do to change the world and the way we and the rest of the world lives and marches on! Then, is it possible to teach entrepreneurship to children in order to foster intellectual and organization abilities in their formative years, so that it becomes a part of their lives and serves as the foundation to dream big?
Enter – Vicky Wu Davis
My wife and I met Vicky about a year ago, at the Microsoft Center in Cambridge. She had graciously given admission to our 12 year old son Yashasvi Raj (from the Diamond Middle School in Lexington, MA) in her Youth CITIES program. The course enrolls high school and middle school students from the Greater Boston area, who meet once a week. The course runs for about three months. Being a scientist, I was a bit reluctant in the beginning to see my son enrolling in this program (instead of focusing on his school work); but I have spent about a decade as an entrepreneur in the biotech field, and I know the value of entrepreneurship first-hand; hence I agreed. My first impression about Vicky was her boundless energy and enthusiasm. She freely interacted with these high school and middle students, solicited their ideas patiently and encouraged them to develop and polish their own ideas in consultation with mentors. These mentors would sit with children and go over their ideas, polish their presentation, and ask them to present them to an audience consisting of their peers and adults. By the end of this short course, I was amazed to see how much these children had done in such a short span of time and how disciplined they had become in “selling their ideas centered on a project.”
Vicky noticed Yashasvi’s enthusiasm and contributions during the first session, and invited him back to participate in another program that ran between September – November 2013. In this, the students were taken to MIT’s Media Lab, International Design Center, the Hall of Human Life exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science, Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC), to name a few. The students were exposed to various other on-going cutting-edge projects by the people who are directly involved in these projects, besides the students were encouraged to tinker around these prototypes. I was completely sold by Vicky’s incredible resourcefulness to convince scientists and engineers of these centers to entertain these teenagers!
In my opinion, the “classical mode” of average American school education revolves around making students become proficient in the three “Rs” – read, write and (A)rithmetics as well as liberal arts, music, etc. I am convinced that these alone are insufficient to compete in our changing and competitive world. These liberal arts centered scholarship must be reinforced with a combination of leadership, salesmanship and risk taking nature, which are the essential ingredients of entrepreneurship. Vicky has recognized the need for inculcating entrepreneurship among students while they are still young. They could build upon these fundamental principles and use these tools later in any profession they chose to enter. I applaud Vicky for trying to teach entrepreneurial skills to students at a very young age.
Needless to say, my son is now hooked to Youth CITIES and sees opportunities everywhere on a daily basis. Now, he is even thinking of building some toys in collaboration with a group at MIT and taking it to schools in some developing countries such as Ghana. He is already incubating some ideas on this. In short, he is enchanted with the landscapes that Youth CITIES has opened up for him.
Creativity in any field is only a part; it does not come just from hero worship or inspirational talks delivered by scholars (yes, including the Nobel Laureates). They have an important role to play, but ultimately it rests on the individual. Discoveries are often made in simple garages or basements with strings, screws, bolts, nuts, rods and pipes. Scientists and engineers build instruments in order to test certain ideas, and these prototypes are often crude. Countless discoveries in science were made this way. These ideas need to be sold to the public. The public in turn must have trust in the entrepreneur. Vicky’s mission appears to be precisely that – to make young students think for themselves, develop new ideas, build models around these ideas, make mistakes as well as learn from mistakes and turn them into opportunities. This is an incredible task. Here the students are challenged and shown incredible examples of success, while they are just in the process of developing prototypes. Students develop insatiable interest in creating something new, improving upon it, by testing and retesting its performance in infinite ways while receiving feedback from their peers.
My sincere hope is that this Youth CITIES model is replicated in every major city in the U. S. and perhaps around the world in its myriad forms. I am convinced that Vicky’s Youth CITIES model of inspiring youngsters at the right age and stage in their development to dive not only into science and technology but also to develop leadership and entrepreneurial spirit to transform science into human welfare is nothing short of a revolutionary idea. Vicky’s vision is seemingly simple- yet grand, and the influence of her work would stretch far beyond Cambridge – and it must!
In my opinion, Vicky is not just running a program collecting brilliant and ambitious young students from Boston and its suburbs, but she is galvanizing a movement with a mission to transform them into future leaders and entrepreneurs of this country and beyond. I salute her for her single-minded devotion and grand vision toward spreading this movement across the country. We are fortunate to have a person like Vicky Wu Davis in Boston. I wish her great success in her endeavor.
Parent of Youth CITIES alum
When I sat in on the recent minihack I felt as if I were at Harvard Business School. There was an electricity in the room as entrepreneurs young and old worked together under the wise and gentle counsel of Vicky and her colleagues. I marveled at how my daughter has grown in her self-confidence as well as her knowledge of sophisticated business models through her participation in Youth CITIES. Thank you Vicky for your generosity and leadership!”
Executive Director of Revolution of Hope
Youth CITIES Mini-Hack is one of this great city’s hidden gems. It provides a fun, energetic and scintillating platform from pan-generational brainstorming around the real world problems of real entrepreneurs. It’s a place where great ideas meet genius solutions usually from the mouths of pre-teens. Youth CITIES empowers young lives through an egalitarian forum for high level thinking toward making our world a better place. I’m hooked and I always beg others to come along whenever I can go.