An Open Letter to the Friends of YouthHack

Dear YouthHack friend,

Today our goal with YouthHack is still the same as when we started back in May 2014 — we want to help students learn more about startups, technology and entrepreneurship. While we’ve grown to hold programs and events in 4 countries now, it’s still our fundamental goal to build a community of youth entrepreneurs and changemakers who strive to solve the world’s biggest problems through technology and entrepreneurship. I truly believe that it is never too early or too late to start making an impact in our community.

Our first-ever YouthHack event, the YouthHack Manila 2014 Technopreneurship Challenge

It’s been quite surreal seeing how much YouthHack has grown since we started back in 2014. I still remember when we were still starting out, and we didn’t really know where to start. I had just come back from the US visiting schools in San Francisco and Pennsylvania when I got this idea of bringing the ‘Silicon Valley’ culture of innovation and collaboration to the Philippines. The big problem? We were just a bunch of 17 and 18 year olds who had just graduated from high school and knew nothing about the startup scene in the Philippines. Yet we had a mission to help students in the Philippines turn their ideas into realities. So we took a leap of faith and decided to attend this one conference that our mentor told us to check out.

In this Ripplerz conference, we got the opportunity to meet with CEOs, founders and presidents of startups and companies from all over Manila. We started pitching to them one by one that we were holding “the first-ever high school technopreneurship challenge” and to our surprise, all the people we pitched to were very excited about the idea. In fact, Mr. Earl Valencia who was then the president of IdeaSpace foundation, would invite us to his office to further discuss the possibilities. Through that same conference, we would meet Mr. Tom Gotuaco who would go on to introduce us to Mr. Paul Rivera and Mr. Jojy Azurin who would both end up speaking at our inaugural YouthHack Manila Technopreneurship Challenge event. Before we knew it, we had our speakers, partners and venue all set for the event.

With everything all set, we just needed to get students to show up to our two-day ‘startup weekend’ type of event. But this was easier said than done. After two weeks of registration, only two teams would apply and they were both people I knew directly. I wasn’t sure what to do with two weeks left before our event. However, as I was scrolling through Facebook, I would come across a group picture that one of my friends in high school took during a program where all the top high school students attended classes in Ateneo University. I would go on to random message every single person in that group photo. Before we knew it, over 23 teams had registered for our first-ever event. We had been saved by Facebook.

The second place team that ended up winning the Harvard Social Innovation Competition

Our first-event would be a success with over 100 students attending, and the rest is history. The second-place team, composed of a bunch of high school seniors, from our first event would go on to pursue their idea even after the event and win a Harvard Competition. We would then setup the YouthHack fellowship program that connected students with startups to intern in. This would be followed by the launch of the YouthHack Philadelphia chapter as I ended my freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania. One week later and we would receive a message from a Singapore high school student that would lead to us starting YouthHack Singapore. As we continued to grow and do programs in the Philippines, Singapore, Philadelphia and Hong Kong, we would get covered by top news publications like Tech In Asia, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Philippine Star, Rappler and more.

Through all this press coverage, support, referrals, social media posts, community events and more, YouthHack has gotten interest from people from Australia, Thailand, Nigeria, Japan, Kenya, Dubai, Taiwan and China. It was quite overwhelming at first but then I told myself, ‘why not? if we can help more students turn their ideas into realities and inspire them to solve problems with startups, technology and entrepreneurship, why not’. Since then we’ve been working towards formalizing these partnerships. I’m not sure how we’re going to make this happen, but this doesn’t mean we won’t try.

It’s this same ‘find a way and never give up’ mentality that YouthHack would embody as we expanded to Singapore, Hong Kong and Philadelphia in the past year. Every time we expand to another country, we encounter numerous challenges and we always hit a low point where nothing seems to be going right but we persevere anyway. I’ll be the first to tell you that we don’t know everything and we’ve hit countless of roadblocks, but it’s in our culture to figure things out and get things done. We’re constantly learning, and we’re constantly doing. It hasn’t been an easy journey but it has been worth it.

It was great working with students from Singapore to turn YouthHack Singapore 2015 into a reality.

Through YouthHack, I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with some of the most amazing individuals from all over the world. These people have become more than just acquaintances, coworkers or team members, they have become my friends and family. I think this is the best part about YouthHack — being able to work with some of the most driven and hardworking youth in the world who want to change the world just as badly as you do, while also having fun doing so :). I’m thankful as well for all the support all our speakers, judges, mentors, partner organizations, startups and companies have given us. Without you guys, YouthHack wouldn’t be possible.

There are a lot of exciting things happening with YouthHack right now. We’re rapidly expanding to new cities and countries, while working on improving our programs to truly help the youth turn their ideas into reality. It’s crazy how much we’ve grown in just over a year but it’s also really exciting to see how much more we can grow in the upcoming days, weeks and months.

Having said this, we need more superheroes, dreamers and doers to help take YouthHack to the next level so I’m inviting you today to join us for a journey that you surely won’t forget because we’re just getting started.

Our applications for the YouthHack Manila, Philadelphia and Singapore team is now open and I hope you consider joining us for the next part of our journey :)

YH Manila: http://goo.gl/forms/KomIRyLReA

YH Philadelphia: http://goo.gl/forms/mnADGam1UG

YH Singapore: http://goo.gl/forms/llueUaHDZR

Best,

David Ongchoco

YouthHack Founder