None of them had to be there. The 70 or so students who attended the paid to be there, and the VCs who sat across from them gave up a Friday afternoon so the students could present their business plans as if they really were asking for millions of dollars in seed money.
Be sure to look them in the eye and shake their hands, came the reminder from business and marketing instructor Carl Schmidt. This the teenage teams did in professional fashion as they greeted the real, adult business professionals.
Seated at a table in the center of the darkened school library sat a collective of men that would turn any would-be business owner seeking an audience of funders and visionaries pea-green with envy.
The table included Andrew Ogawa, managing partner of Quest Venture Partners; Bill Wilson, a private investor and founder of Wilson Meany Sullivan LLC, Leon Wong, a member of Harvard Angels and product marketing director at PARC; and Drake Rice, an independent consultant from Castro Valley.
One by one the top teams of the week-long intensive summer camp hosted by Monta Vista High School's National Technical Honor Society and DECA organizations stood before the panel to explain their start-up company ideas, outlining their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
"You may have a cash flow crunch at some point," cautioned Ogawa following one group's presentation.
Advice offered, such as Ogawa's, was given to the teams not as an adult to 13- and 14-year-olds, but to people who had come up with real-world solutions to real-world problems.
"They were very interested. They're not here because their parents make them," Wong said of the presenting teens.
Presentations included visuals cast on a large screen behind the teams as they took turns explaining their start-up concepts and business plans—all from lessons learned during the boot camp that was the first-ever at the school.
It was an idea rolling around in Schmidt's head until recent Monta Vista graduate Hung-Jen Wu took it and made it a reality.
Through a doorway in the back of the room other competing teams waited their turn, occasionally peeking through the windows of the door to observe.
"They're all pretty jazzed about this," Schmidt said.
The team first up—Anirudh Kunaparaju, Karan Gugle, and Megha Sheth—presented Greenware, an app to help you manage and control home appliances while away from home. Taking roles as CEO, or head of marketing, the team took turns outlining such things as why their product filled a consumer's need, and how they would operate and manage the company. They concluded with the "ask"—the request for an additional meeting and, of course, the possibility of funding.
"Quite honestly the first team blew me away," Ogawa said.
As each team completed its presentation the panel filled out a critique. Some teams were more confident and poised, but none lacked in preparation and drive.
"When I first walked in the room I was impressed with the enthusiasm," Ogawa said.