As our project progresses, the importance of networking, as well as the importance of pitching and receiving feedback on our project from industry professionals increases exponentially. To this end, the RhinoCharge team embarked on our most far-flung trip yet, traveling to San Diego for the 1517 Summit, where we not only had the opportunity to network with other teen founders and their teams, but had the opportunity to pitch our products before industry experts, receiving invaluable feedback.
4:30 AM — Palo Alto, CA
Early in the morning, the team assembled in Palo Alto, readying to head for Oakland, where we would catch a flight south to San Diego, arriving just in time for the conference. While not ideal, this setup allowed the team to be efficient, reducing extra time spent traveling. It was imperative that the team packed light for this trip, as with the tight schedule, we did not want to be held down by large bags. To this end, the team packed just backpacks or other small carryon bags, something further incentivised by the threat of revocation of your airport snacks, if you failed to comply. To meet this early morning time, the team coordinated online, allowing all of us to reach the designated meetup point quickly and without incident. After hailing an uber to the airport, which delivered us quickly and efficiently to Oakland airport, where our flight was waiting. Throughout this, we were all thankful to our families, who had experienced significant disruptions from their normal routines to enable this early meetup to happen.
6:05 AM — Oakland Airport, CA
Arriving at the airport around 5:30, we got out of the uber and found that we were fortunate to have planned ahead, as even though our flight was quite early, the airport was already packed. The extra time was necessary, as we had to contend with long security lines and other delays to make it to the gate. This showed how leaving extra time for your connections is very important, a lesson that would become much more poignant after the experience catching our return flight. Arriving on the plane with plenty of time to spare, however, we enjoyed a beautiful view of the bay as our plane climbed.
8:20 AM — Innovations Academy, San Diego, CA
Meeting up at the summit, the team saw firsthand the start of what would become the name card saga, where the name cards we ordered had, instead, been printed as single-sided sheets of paper. While our relatives who live in San Diego went to get the problem resolved, the team checked in for the summit. At first, conversing with the other attendees was awkward, with us often relying on them to lead with questions, and it being difficult to hold a conversation for a long period of time. As we became more comfortable, however, we began to lead more, and have longer and more in-depth conversations, allowing us to gain valuable feedback from other attendees, as well as network with people who had similar areas or interests. After networking in the morning, it was time for keynote speeches from both the event organizers and famous founders, including Dylan Field of Figma, Vinay Hiremath of Loom, Sara Du of Alloy Automation, and Christine Kuglen, cofounder of Innovations Academy, where the summit took place. The speeches were very insightful, with a lot of attention being given to mental health, a topic not often discussed among the community. The founders also discussed their journey, and gave insights into some of the more specific obstacles they faced on their journey. These insights will prove valuable to anyone working on a similar project and following a similar path. Though these presentations were engaging, some of our team, who had not slept in over a day, found it difficult to stay awake the whole time.
12:00 PM — Innovations Academy, San Diego, CA
After a long morning of networking and keynotes, it was time for lunch, provided from food trucks organized by the summit. The food trucks were relatively unmanaged, but after spending what seemed like hours in a disorderly queue, we finally received our food, with the general consensus being that it was good. During lunch, we also connected with another person working on an EV infrastructure project, specifically, fast charging infrastructure. Given the overlap, we were excited to exchange ideas and connect with each other.
1:00 PM — Innovations Academy, San Diego, CA
After lunch, the team split, allowing us to attend different “breakout sessions” in which we were able to get in-depth presentations about specific topics, from math, to health, to energy and books. These talks proved a valuable resource, allowing us to get an insight into new topics, as well as how to maintain self care and mental health during the process. The talks also allowed the team to better understand the building process, allowing us to see the steps which products must go through, as well as the importance of iteration and modification. The talks also gave us time to connect with smaller groups whose interests more specifically aligned to ours, for example, a team member who was very interested in math was able to have a genuine conversation and connection with others during the math presentation.
These presentations showed us examples of what successful entrepreneurs looked like, as well as some of the struggles they had faced, and would prove one of the most valuable parts of the summit, in terms of the knowledge we took away from them.
5:00 PM — Innovations Academy, San Diego, CA
After a long day for our team, we headed to the auditorium at innovations academy for a closing presentation and “surprise”. To the amazement of all of us, but those who were sleepy, the surprise turned out to be a magic show, performed by one of the event organizers, who was also a trained magician. The performance was spectacular, and the tricks were intense, though, for some of the tricks, the more squeamish members of the team had to look away. After that, a group photo was taken using a drone, demonstrating some of the advanced technology shown at the event, and a closing debrief was given, along with directions to the shuttles that would take us to the hotel. After the presentation, we finally sorted out the business cards, picking them up from reception, finally ending the saga that had caused much difficulty.
6:30 PM — Marriott Marquis, San Diego, CA
After a long day, we took the 1517 provided shuttle buses to the hotel, the Waterfront Marriott Marquis in San Diego’s Marina District. Checking in, we noted that the hotel provided a luxurious experience, but that several things, such as breakfast and wifi, were not included in the price, but cost quite a bit extra (a fact that one member did not notice until *after* paying $15 for wifi worse than what could be provided by our phones’ hotspots. The view from the hotel was, however, more than enough to make up for this. Despite the apparent tiredness of some members, we did not have long in the hotel to relax, as we soon left for dinner.
7:30 PM — Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego, CA
Settling in, we decided to sort out dinner, and, going off a recommendation from our local relatives, tried to see if we could get a table at the renowned Old Spaghetti Factory. We discovered, however, that there would not be any table available for nearly an hour, and so decided to look elsewhere. Already being in the historic Gaslamp Quarter, we decided to walk around and look for another option, and settled on an exciting looking seafood restaurant. Settling in, we were reassured of our choice when we were provided with complimentary chips and salsa, as well as an opportunity for a team member to order their beloved sprite. On the arrival of our food, a hearty meal consisting of tacos and burritos, as well as more sprite for one team member and a margarita for one of the coaches. The food was excellent, though, one of our team members mistook the calamari for chicken nuggets. After eating, we returned to the hotel, walking in the warm glow of the bulbs. As we walked, it became apparent that the margarita and sprite were too much, as the member who had sprite was incessantly throwing their phone up and catching it, invoking panicked responses from the other team members, and the coach who had a margarita was suffering some of the side effects.
9:30 PM — Marriott Marquis, San Diego, CA
Returning to our hotel, we all congregated in 1 room to work on our pitching, in preparation for the pitch tomorrow morning. We worked first on writing a rough outline, so we would have the points we wanted to say be consistent, and then practiced, refining our pitch over and over again, and receiving extensive and honest feedback from a member who had pitched their project before. Another team member also worked on the code for our next model improvement, but were eventually convinced to practice their pitching with the rest of us. Once we had refined several times, and were satisfied, we realized it was already past 11, and we would need to get up early the next day for pitching.
8:00 AM — Marriott Marquis, San Diego, CA
The team woke up sporadically, with some being up before 7, while others, who did not have to pitch, would sleep through the pitching session. Those who were up early met at 7:30 for breakfast, which we had at another restaurant inside the hotel, as the hotel restaurant was very expensive, costing at least $30 per person. While eating a delicious breakfast of bagels and croissants, some of the other members began to arrive, and we discussed our pitching strategy. We were interrupted by a member needing to use the bathroom, the result of their consumption of 3 whole jalapenos the night before. This forced a change, as we had planned to practice our pitching in the morning, but found ourselves unable to.
9:00 AM — Marriott Marquis, San Diego, CA
We returned to our rooms to prepare for the pitch, but had another unexpected roadblock in our way, as on the way down, the elevators had trouble, resulting in a 5 minute wait before they arrived, and them stopping on every floor on the way down. We were, however, able to make it to the pitching in time, where we pitched to Michael, a very successful investor in the technology space. He seemed excited about our project, and was able to quickly assure us that we would get AWS credits to help us. The practice and feedback we had received the prior Following that, we went into the auditorium to watch their “fireside chat” with two teen founders, who discussed their experience. In the auditorium, they were also serving a light breakfast, for those who might want it. The event, however, ran overtime, cutting down on our already tight connection to our flight home. To try to save on time, we called an uber in advance for later. As the event ended, we excitedly found out that we had won, however, with the event already well overtime, we had no time to celebrate.
10:00 AM — San Diego, CA
With the presentation finishing 30 minutes late, we had little time to get to the airport, and worse, just as our uber arrived and we were walking to the pickup spot (The GPS signal weakness caused by being underground resulted in the pickup spot being specified wrong), the driver canceled and drove away, forcing us to scramble to get another one in time. This saga added another 10 minutes of delay, but, skillful driving by our driver, clearly a San Diego native, avoided the google maps route, which suggested a route filled with traffic, and saved us several minutes of time. However, traffic at the airport caused by construction forced us to get dropped off at the south end of terminal 1 and run to the north security checkpoint, which led to the concourse which our flight boarded from. At security, however, we incurred another delay, as one member forgot to remove some filled water bottles from their backpack. Despite this, we got through security with time to spare before the gate opened, which we were told was good by ACF standards, as on the last return flight, a team member had to sprint to keep the gate from closing.
11:35 — San Diego International Airport, San Diego, CA
Comfortably on board, we reviewed the selection of films and shows available, and were able to relax for the first time that day. In all, the trip proved truly essential, as the funding will help us progress our project to the next phase, and the networking will help us build a community of similar teen founders, especially ones that work in the EV space.