Diamond Challenge for High School EntrepreneursOver the past few years, Acclaim has collaborated with the Horn Program of Entrepreneurship at the University of Delaware. Like the program, we share a commitment to helping students leverage their creative strengths through entrepreneurship, and a belief that interacting with inspiring mentors will enhance student motivation. The Horn Program extends this mission to high school students through the Diamond Challenge, a real world business competition in which groups of students work with teachers to prepare and submit an idea for a business or social enterprise. Now in its third year, the program provides an outstanding opportunity for students to explore entrepreneurship as a viable career path and helps them to acquire valuable knowledge and skills.

[PHOTO: Frank Makray and his team, Raven Eyes, at the Final Round on 4/18/13]

To date, over 400 students from 118 schools have participated in the Diamond Challenge, using its online video curriculum and pitching ideas at live events. The following post was written in collaboration with Stefanie Spatola and Julie Frieswyk of the UD Horn Program.

Video: Overview of the Diamond Challenge

Acclaim: Tell us more about the the Diamond Challenge.

UD: The Director of the Horn Program, Dr. Dan Freeman, came together with several local partners, such as Delaware Technical Community College, to provide an accessible, relevant, real-world experience for high school students. The curriculum is based on Steve Blank’s Lean Startup Methodology, an approach which advocates that entrepreneurs should use evidence-based inquiry to systematically de-risk business models.

During the experience student gain connections and have the opportunity to compete for a significant prize pool. International students have the opportunity to travel to America. The Diamond Challenge is also dedicated to building an entrepreneurial community in the Delaware region. A large number of teachers, judges, mentors and others participate.

Acclaim: How does the competition work?

UD: The Diamond Challenge takes place from September until April. Participating students work in teams of 2-4 to prepare and submit an idea and a 5-minute pitch for a business or social enterprise. In a first round competition, they deliver the pitch, and answer questions about their idea. Preliminary round sites for 2015 include Delaware and Maryland in the US, and Kenya, Moldova, Tunisia, Georgia and Uganda abroad.

Top teams from each site advance to the Final Round at the Youth Entrepreneurship Summit (YES!), held April 30, 2015, at the University of Delaware. At the Final Round, teams compete for their share of a $25,000 prize pool.

Acclaim: What is the curriculum like?

UD: The Diamond Challenge has an online video-based curriculum focused on examining the entrepreneurial mindset and related skills. After watching the online video curriculum, students form teams of 2-4 and

1) conceive of an idea for new business or social enterprise;
2) test their idea by talking to potential customers;
3) develop and submit a persuasive written concept; and
4) pitch their concept to a panel of judges.

Video curriculum from the Diamond Challenge: Building a Business Like a Scientist

Acclaim: How do teachers get involved? Who else participates?

UD: We’ve seen a broad spectrum of teacher involvement. Some teachers use the Diamond Challenge as a learning tool for an entire class, while other teachers work with students whom have reached out to them individually. The program was developed to be flexible, allowing teachers to be quite “entrepreneurial” in how they choose to use it.

We connect with leadership at local high schools and community colleges. We also work with global partners that hold the preliminary round pitch competitions. Much of the support for our program comes from donors, both private and corporate, who share our passion for inspiring and empowering youth through teaching creativity, innovation and problem solving skills. We also have numerous volunteers who serve as judges, mentors and program facilitators.

Acclaim also had the opportunity to hear from some of the mentors and teachers who participate in the program:

Dan Freeman
Director of the UD Horn Program and Associate Professor of Marketing, Mentor

Acclaim: How did you decide to become involved in the Diamond challenge?

Dan Freeman: Youth need relevant and meaningful opportunities to learn about entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial mindset. High school is a time when students are asked to consider where they want to go to college and what they’d like to study, and entrepreneurship needs to be a part of that conversation. The networks and skills gained through the Diamond Challenge will grant students useful tools no matter what paths they choose. They will help them to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world.

Acclaim: What has been your favorite student project/ what are your favorite parts of mentoring younger students?

Dan Freeman: My favorite part is seeing the students’ enthusiasm for their own ideas. Traditional educational processes seldom give students the opportunity to focus on ideas they’re truly passionate about. And even when they do, teachers still tell them what to do, how to do it, when to do it and what format to put it in. The Diamond Challenge is meant to help students realize that, as Steve Jobs said, “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.
 Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

Frank Makray, Sussex Technical High School, Georgetown, DE
Teaches Business, Finance, and Marketing Technical Area to grades 9-12

Acclaim: What was your favorite student project?

Frank Makray: Raven Eyes was my favorite student project. It is a collaborative effort between our photography and business technical departments. Photography takes student pictures and portraits during the school year, and archives them on an online purchasing site. My Business, Finance, and Marketing classes then manage and operate the business and financial aspect.

Acclaim: How are you incorporating the videos from the Diamond Challenge site in your teaching?

Frank Makray: My students are required to view the videos as a team. We meet a few times a month to discuss and clarify the concepts.

Irina Popan, English teacher
Republic of Moldova

Acclaim: Tell us about yourself and your experience with the Diamond Challenge?

Irina Popan: I’ve been teaching English and French for eight years, and I became involved in the Diamond Challenge last year. The team I advised didn’t place in the competition but it was still a great experience. We used the video curriculum during our English lessons. It gave our students the opportunity to learn about setting goals and planning for their future careers. We also collaborated with another class on economic education.

To read more about UD’s Horn Program and student entrepreneurship, check out our post with Matt Terrell, “At the University of Delaware, Students Learn Innovation and Entrepreneurship from Founder’s Films.”