Teens Exploring Technology or TXT (formerly URBAN TXT) is a nonprofit organization started in 2010 by Oscar Menjivar and Roxanne Mendez to help inner city teens in Los Angeles “engage and utilize technology to pave a pathway to higher education.” TXT recently opened The Cube, a creative technology space based in South Los Angeles, to encourage coding and host mentorships between the LA tech community and the students.
We asked Justin Bell of TXT a few questions about the nonprofit’s coding academy and Demo Day, a yearly startup pitch competition, and also interviewed Jonathan Casasola of Bond, the winners of this year’s Demo Day.
Justin Bell, Program Fellow at TXT:
● Can you tell us a little more about Demo Day?
Demo Day is the culmination of TXT’s 15-week Summer Coding Leadership Academy. It is an opportunity for the TXT’ers (i.e. students in the TXT Summer cohort) to demonstrate the skills they have gained (coding, business development, pitching, etc.) by showcasing their creations. They engage in a live pitch competition for seed funding and other great prizes before a panel of executive level judges from a variety of industries and an audience including LA political leaders, technology entrepreneurs, family and friends.
In a nutshell, Demo Day is both a competition and a celebration of the TXT’ers’ collective achievements and the emergence of technological entrepreneurship in South Los Angeles. At this year’s edition, 37 incredibly talented young men from the Los Angeles inner city competed in teams of 2 – 4 members. Demo Day 2014 marked the first time in history that a teen tech startup (aka Bond, the winning team) from South Los Angeles received seed funding.
● What made Bond stand out from the competition?
The Bond team did a great job at showing their tenacity, inventiveness, and enthusiasm, while convincingly demonstrating their technical skills and their learning ability. We, at TXT, remember the day when Bond had their “Aha!” moment this summer, when they realized what kind of product they wanted to introduce to the public. The excitement in the room was palpable, and their self-generated momentum continued – through programming roadblocks and late nights – all the way to Demo Day. The judges saw great market potential behind their idea.
● What advice would you give to future young tech entrepreneurs who want to apply for next year’s competition?
Give considerable thought to what kind of innovation you would want to produce over the course of next summer, and what skills/disciplines you would like to expand and/or learn. Also, be mentally prepared to fail and be able to find lessons to learn in those “failures” in order to take another crack at your end goal and reach the success that you knew was possible all along!
Jonathan Casasola, Bond Developer:
● Can you introduce the Bond team and explain how you guys came up with the concept behind Bond?
The Bond team consists of Diego Arrenquin, Layquawn Windley, Kevin Herrera, and myself. Diego is our UX designer, Layquawn serves as our product manager, Kevin as our project manager, and I am the startup’s primary developer.
Bond was conceived after countless days struggling, with our group debating ideas back and forth. We were one of the last groups in the TXT program to agree on a concept. While Diego wanted to create an app centered on music, I wanted to create a website for cyclists, and Layquawn wanted to do something for travelers. With the help of our mentor, Jose, we combined our three ideas. We thought, “Why not find new locations where we can learn about music or travel to with our bicycles?” We delved further into the idea and thought about who the ideal market for this idea would be. Then, the lightbulb came on. WE, collectively, were that target market: teenagers in Los Angeles who have a tough time finding new and fun locations where we could safely hang out. We wanted to make it easy for teens to find cool places; whether these places are creative date spots that aren’t the typical dinner and a movie, or just places to relax with friends and share laughs. We also factor our parents / guardians peace of mind in the equation, and Bond, with its emphasis on fun and safety, will help them rest easier. New, fun, and safe is what Bond is all about.
● What was the most beneficial aspect of the competition to you?
I believe the most beneficial aspect was not just developing the skills that we will use in our future respective career, but also developing the bond between our group and all our peers. TXT became a second family that we know will always be there to support us.
● How did it feel to win?
Deep down, we knew that we could win it all. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t scared… Creating Bond was a big risk. It could have gone both ways for us at Demo Day. Our presentation went well, our confidence was high, but there was always a sense of uncertainty lingering. In the end, we were jumping up and down in the auditorium! Bond will keep growing with the help of the great mentors and volunteers at TxT and, in turn, we will encourage the next generation of TXTers to dig deep and challenge themselves.
Be on the on the look out for Bond, which will go live in 2015 – and if you live in the Los Angeles area, spread the word to teenagers around you!
In the meantime, if you wish to connect with the Bond team, you can email them at info@URBANTxT.com.