Meet Daniel Zhang, the founder of Project Cultiv8, is a senior from San Ramon, California. Project Cultiv8 is an organization that serves as a social entrepreneurship incubator targeted towards the students in the Bay Area of California. They provide advantageous and cost-free programs like philanthropic workshops, mentorships, and competitions to encourage and enable the aspiring youth to effectively implement their ideas to innovate in the local community.
Question 1: How did you decide on the location of the Program? How did you secure a space to run your workshops?
This was one of our biggest challenges. We wanted to launch it in a community that was less fortunate than ours because we wanted to use our privileges to make a difference and inspire students in the community. First, we started in the Tenderloin District in San Francisco, but it did not work out because of the long commute. We contacted many professionals until we met Paul Keim, the CEO of Small Town Society in Castro Valley, who owned a really unique space we could use. We had to rely on him for a lot of contacts. We even got in touch with the superintendent and she saw how passionate we were. Because of this, the city council dedicated a lot of time to help us. We spent no money getting started which is something we are really proud of. It required a lot of patience. We cold called hundreds of professionals and organizations after searching them up on google. First, we asked to interview them and established a connection through that. Later, we were able to bring our initiative up in the conversation.
Question 2: How are workshops structured? What does the curriculum development process look like?
We spent three to four months developing our curriculum. We broke the workshops down into multiple topics such as introduction, startup management, networking, and pitching. In each workshop, we had one to two professionals or city council members talk about how students could reach out to them and get their attention. We also interviewed a lot of high school entrepreneurs and nonprofit executives which helped a lot with curriculum development. We created a structured system using google drive with folders and outlines for each topic. Through using this outline, we were able to budget our time appropriately for each topic. Another important thing we emphasized was student engagement and collaboration, which is important for any learning environment.
Question 3: How can high schoolers receive funding for their initiatives?
We had a program that covered how to raise funds as a high school student. Many high school students try to get a 5013c grant which can take up to 6 months to a year. We discourage the students from creating registered nonprofits and encourage unique fundraising methods such as partnering up with local small businesses. For example, you can partner up with a tutoring center. They can give you the money you need, and you can allow them to pitch their services at your event. Make sure you have similar missions and do your research. One of my initiatives was planning the Kiva Club fall festival. Kiva is a nonprofit that donates money to third world countries and my team and I wanted to give back to the organization. We were able to raise $5,000 dollars by accepting donations from utilizing our parent’s connections and by contacting small businesses. Be vocal about what you are passionate about and all the work you are doing. Parents and community members are usually very open to supporting these initiatives. Maximize all of your connections and their networks.
Question 4: What does it take for an initiative to be successful?
Make sure that what you are doing is something you are really passionate about. A lot of times, people start initiatives for their resumes or college applications. Passion will give you the drive you need. Take action on what you believe in, even if it’s not the most impressive thing out there.
Question 5: Do you think that being a teen entrepreneur has any advantages or unique perspectives compared to entrepreneurs from other generations?
High school is a one of a kind time in our life. We don’t have as many responsibilities as adults do. We also have a unique image in the community. As long as you are passionate, you can receive the help you need because adults are more likely to help teen entrepreneurs than adult entrepreneurs. We have extensive networks from our schools, activities, and parents. This is something we really need to take advantage of. Many of us try to start initiatives, but they often fail. They rarely become multi-million dollar businesses because we don’t have expertise or access to a large amount of resources.
Starting an initiative as a teenager is ultimately about the learning from the journey that comes along with it. It’s not always about succeeding right away.
Question 6: What advice do you have for teenagers that aspire to become entrepreneurs?
Follow your passion and don’t do something just because it’s impressive
Always stay motivated — you are going to get rejected from hundreds of people every single day. You have to keep going because you never know when you will find the diamond in the rough.
Stay healthy, have a positive attitude, and build a good team. FInd people who are talented in different ways as you, but still have the same amount of passion and drive. Maximize the resources around you and don’t waste time.
Question 7: Outside of Project Cultiv8, what other interests do you haveH how do you find balance with school and other extracurriculars?
Outside of Project Cultiv8, I am a part of varsity track, and I am both the president of my school’s FBLA chapter and an officer at the regional level. Last year was very difficult for me because I had to commit to all of these things with SAT prep on top of everything. Know when to make sacrifices— for me, that was social media and going to events with my friends. The higher you get, the more isolated you feel, but your experiences become a lot more fulfilling. Be mature about managing your time and keep a detailed planner. I record the amount of time I spend doing each activity in order to visualize exactly where my time goes.
Make sure to get enough sleep— this is something you should never sacrifice even if it feels impossible because you will never do your best work.
Question 8: If you could live anywhere, where would it be and why?
I would like to live in Reykjavík, Iceland. I like adventure and nature. Iceland has really cool glaciers and waterfalls. It even has the Northern Lights, which is something i'd really love to see.
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