All Star Code + Spotify's "Build A Business In A Day"

About 20 students gathered at the brand-new Spotify headquarters in the Flatiron District of New York City.

Designing a startup from start to finish in one day

The students participated in a daylong workshop in which they came up with a business concept, marketing strategy, logo, and pitch deck to present their ideas to a panel of judges.

Britt Morgan-Saks and Kerry Steib, Spotify

Spotify's Britt Morgan-Saks and Kerry Steib delivered opening remarks.

Kane Sarhan of Enstitute leads a workshop on wireframing

Kane Sarhan, a cofounder of the apprentice-based education startup Enstitute, led the day's workshops on wireframing, branding, and marketing.

Students get to work developing their business plans

Students were broken up into one of three groups for the rest of the day. Each group was tasked with taking one genre of music and one type of mobile app to create a product.

Plotting the perfect pitch deck

Each of the three groups were also tasked with creating a pitch deck for their product, which they presented to a panel of judges at the end of the day.

Hip Hop Spot

One of the student groups created a wireframe for Hip Hop Spot, a new-media site for hip-hop news and merchandise.

Scribbles and doodles

Students had access to laptops and giant paper pads and markers to sketch out their ideas and create wireframes.

Lunch with a side of mentors

Students sat down to lunch with Spotify employees who acted as volunteer mentors for the day.

The judges convene to choose a winner

The event's panel of judges included employees from Spotify, Pandora, and Union Square Ventures, among others.

Lion Music Gaming

The winning student group, Lion Music Gaming, presented a concept for a reggae music app that lets users mix and match prerecorded melodies and riffs to create and share their own songs.

The sweet sound of victory

All participants left with swag bags, but the winning members of Lion Music Gaming also received a pair of Spotify-brand headphones.

How All Star Code Is Getting More Young, Black Males Into Tech

There aren't enough young, black males in tech. All Star Code is trying to fix that through an intensive summer camp that preps black high school students for high-growth tech jobs.

It's early on a Saturday morning, and the brand-new Spotify headquarters in New York's Flatiron District are bustling with high schoolers. Nearly 20 young, black men have gathered here to spend the day learning how to come up with a business idea, a brand, a marketing strategy, and a pitch deck to present what they've learned to a panel of judges. Laptops, giant markers, and paper pads are everywhere, and the students plot out ideas ranging from a digital hub for hip-hop fans to a reggae music-creation app to a portal for discovering indie artists.

These students are the first-ever participants of All Star Code, a young organization that seeks to attract young, black men to the tech industry by outfitting them with the skills necessary to land full-time jobs early in their careers.

"A lot of people in our community have a problem admitting that to work in technology, you often are a skinny, upper-middle-class white guy," says Kane Sarhan, a cofounder of the apprenticeship-based education startup Enstitute and the day's instructor. "These organizations aren't just saying there's a massive problem. They're putting a stake in the ground and saying, There are no black people here or There are no women here."

Christina Lewis Halpern, All Star Code's founder and a former business reporter for the Wall Street Journal, chose to focus on the young, black male demographic after she noticed several new tech-prep programs popping up that catered to the tech industry's historically marginalized groups—for example, what Girls Who Code does for women. But she noticed there were too few tech programs geared specifically toward young, black males.

"This is a group that doesn't have advocates, and that needs more people who are able to speak for them in this industry," Lewis Halpern says. "I saw that that's something I could do, and also it seemed that if I didn't do it, I didn't think anyone else would."

Lewis Halpern was inspired to found All Star Code by her late father, Reginald F. Lewis, who became the richest African-American man in the 1980s. She credits her father's success to a Harvard Law School summer program he accessed early in life that recruited and positioned young, black men for success at the school.

"I thought, If my father were a young man today, where would he want to go? He wouldn't want to go to law school," Lewis Halpern says. "He'd want to be in Silicon Valley. So I thought, well, are there any black people in the space? No. Has it already been diversified? No."

The daylong workshop at Spotify was the first real step All Star Code has taken, since its inception, toward realizing Lewis Halpern's ultimate goal, a six-week-long, intensive summer course that provides students with programming training, as well as experience with entrepreneurial “soft skills” like leadership and teamwork. As of press time, All Star Code's inaugural summer session is slated to begin in July 2014.

Based on the response she received from the students who attended All Star Code's first workshop, Lewis Halpern won't have much trouble filling seats in the summer program.

"Technology is new. We're going to be doing this for the rest of our lives," says Shakeem Brown, 15, a sophomore at New York City's Pace High School who participated in All Star Code's workshop. "As I get older, I want to know: What can I make better in the world? What type of new technology can I create?"

[Image courtesy of All Star Code | Photos by Natalie Keyssar & Michael Schwartz]

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9 Comments

  • Mamadou Diallo

    Ayeee!!! im just blushing because I see my face in the second picture, drawing and designing out the app me and my wonderful group created!!!

  • Tifinie

    This is awesome. My husband runs a mentoring program for young black men - All The Kings Men, Nashville TN. Anytime I see our black boys engaged in something edifying it touches my heart. As an Urban Planner I see how technology is just as important to our cities infrastructure as water, and electricity, and many low income and minority communities just don't have access to technology. I love how this program is closing that gap by training our young people in order to provide better access to technology; one day I know they will give back and that gap will become smaller :)  

  • Terrintokyo

    wonderful! as a middle-aged Black woman in tech retail, I'd love to see programs like this for middle-aged, working class women, as well! (never instead of...)