Next Generation Entrepreneurs Compete At Google HQ

If you happened to wander onto the Google campus last Sunday, January 28th, you might not have been surprised to notice a flurry of activity around building 40, even on a Sunday night. But you would have walked in on an incredible sight. An entire auditorium filled with hundreds of people mingling around and stopping by colorful booths where friendly and enterprising 12 year girls explained their wares and encouraged you to buy their hand-made sparkling picture frames for $10 or scented soaps for $2.

It was the Girls’ Middle School Entrepreneurial Night, hosted by Google. One after the other, ten teams of 3-5 seventh grade girls presented their Powerpoint on stage to a panel of Silicon Valley judges and an audience of 400 parents, teachers and students. The students’ goal: to raise $100-250 from a venture capitalist to fund operations until May. The judges: successful entrepreneurs like Diane Greene from VMWare and Christine Comaford-Lynch from Mighty Ventures, and experienced investors from Bay Partners, InterWest, Kleiner Perkins, Versant, and TA Associates. As many of us asked each other in amazement, how old were you when you made your first presentation to 400 people? How old were you when you raised money for your first venture?

These girls presented with aplomb and humor. The audience laughed heartily when Grace Kagle, from Bubble Trouble, explained the compelling market opportunity for their scented soaps and bath salts as being “anyone who likes to take baths and be clean.” The team I funded, One Stop Pet Shop, started with a team jingle and then explained that they picked pet products because they were passionate about pets, they wanted to differentiate from the other teams selling products primarily for girls, and people make purchases for pets as though they’re “an equal family member.” Hence the 100% margins on the $8 water bowls and $3.50 dog treats that were flying off the booth table!

Of course, nurturing twelve year old entrepreneurship takes more than one evening. With an army of volunteer business coaches and parents directed by Ann Tardy for the past few years and ably taken over by Tracy Greene this year, GMS’ Entrepreneurial Education program is a full-year course for the seventh grade where the girls spend the first half creating their business ideas, writing 8-10 page business plans and preparing to present on funding night. These concise plans are complete with business and product descriptions, market opportunity and competitive analysis, management team bios, detailed unit economics and financial projections. Unique to these business plans (and I’ve seen quite a few in my lifetime!) is the section on Time Management, where the girls detail their time commitments (including homework, commuting and sleep) and calculate how much time they have to devote to their entrepreneurial activities!

Worth noting is the fact that the girls are all taught to develop profitable and philanthropic businesses. In May, they liquidate the businesses, return capital (and more) to investors, and each donate 5-20% of profits to charities like Greenpeace, SPCA, CARE and the school library! Several of the teams focused on recycled products as well, which Trae Vassalo from Kleiner particularly applauded when she funded Reuse, Recycle and Relax. Now that the excitement of Entrepreneurial Night is over and the teams are funded, it’s time for the girls to deliver on their promises and present their accomplishments in May. Good luck to tomorrow’s women entrepreneurs!

Editor’s Note: I met Vivian Wu on an airplane last week while we were both returning from traveling in Los Angeles. She told me about this event, where young women presented their business ideas at Google HQ in front of hundreds of attendees and judges, and I asked her to write about it here on TechCrunch. Vivian has been a judge at the Girls Middle School Entrepreneurial Night for the past three years. She focuses on technology investments and buyouts at TA Associates, a $10 billion private equity firm.