A summer school at EPFL for budding entrepreneurs
11.09.17 - EPFL recently played host to a summer school aimed at teaching 15- to 19-year olds the secrets of business success in a digital world. The course was created by Ginger, a Swiss non-profit association.
What does it take to become a successful entrepreneur in the modern age? A group of 17 young people aged between 15 and 19 were given the opportunity to explore the nexus between technology and entrepreneurship at the first-ever Ginger Summer School, held at EPFL in mid-August. Ginger is a Swiss non-profit association that helps today’s youth explore their interest in the business world. For one week, the participants – who came from all over the country – brainstormed concrete answers to real-life challenges.
“I challenge them from day one: we look at the real problems people face and try to come up with solutions. Then I help them sketch out a prototype and develop a business plan,” says Loïc Schulé, an EPFL graduate turned entrepreneur and consultant. “The aim of this week-long course is to teach teens the secrets of thinking like an entrepreneur – which is something they don’t learn at school. There aren‘t good or bad ideas! You have to relentlessly explore the possible solutions to a given problem in order to come up with the right answer."
Fighting fake news
The participants had to hit the ground running, and they were not short of ideas. “For our project, we wanted to fight fake news on social media with a website designed to improve people’s critical thinking, including through an online game about separating fact from fiction,” says Xenia, a 15-year old from Zurich.
Another group focused on excess noise: “Is it possible to reduce noise pollution without preventing people from communicating with each other? We turned the problem on its head: our system is designed to help us keep the decibels down when we talk. Using a microphone, people can chat softly within a group,” says Enrico, a 19-year old from Geneva who will study chemistry at EPFL starting this September.
Charging your phone with a football
Another project that came out of the week-long course was an app for sharing an internet connection while traveling. This also opens a communication channel between the traveler and the local resident, helping the traveler find her bearings in the foreign land. Lastly, one team revived the idea of using a football to charge a mobile phone. This project was first launched in Africa but had to be shelved because of a lack of funding. “We think we can make it work using Swiss technology," say the team’s members.
At the end of the week, Schulé is full of praise for the projects, which took shape over just a few days. “At 16, these kids come up with ideas on par with those of managers working for large companies,” says the coach. When the week ended, the teams competed for a special prize, presenting their projects to an audience that included representatives of EPFL and Digital Switzerland.
EPFL runs other summer schools as well. This year, a robotics week organized in conjunction with two Swiss-German high schools was held for the first time. Just like Ginger Summer School, it will be offered again next year.