Five years ago, husband and wife Steve and Mary Grove, directors of Google News Lab and Google for Entrepreneurs, respectively, wanted to find a way to use their connections in the tech industry to give back to Steve’s home state of Minnesota. The pair launched Silicon North Stars, a nonprofit organization that aims to introduce tech to Minnesota high school students — primarily those from minority and underrepresented backgrounds. In concert with Giving Tuesday, the pair has launched a $10,000 crowdfunding campaign to help cover some of the costs of their annual program.
Each year, Silicon North Stars accepts 16 eighth-grade students from Minneapolis and St. Paul into its program. Silicon North Stars does not accept public applications, rather students are selected from one of several high schools and career-training programs the organization partners with in Minnesota. The nonprofit then takes the students on a week-long trip to Silicon Valley, where they tour companies like Facebook, Indiegogo, YouTube, and Google. Each student is assigned a mentor from the tech community in Silicon Valley who helps the students set long-term and short-term career and academic goals. Finally, students participate in a “demo day,” where they are tasked with designing a company that offers a technical solution to a societal problem.
“We wanted to demystify what it [living and working in Silicon Valley] is like for students,” Mary Grove told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “I think one perception they [the students] have is that you can only work in Silicon Valley if you’re an engineer.”
The Groves have also added a series of Minnesota Meetups to the Silicon North Stars program. Once a quarter, students meet with various entrepreneurs, investors, and workers to learn about the tech community in their home state, an effort that is aimed at sustaining the students’ exposure to tech as they continue through high school.
Mary Grove says that Silicon North Stars’ annual operating costs are about $75,000. The program has a few sponsors, including the nonprofit Knight Foundation and Best Buy (Google does not fund the program). The rest of the money typically comes from twice-yearly crowdfunding campaigns the Groves organize — one in the summer right before the camp is set to begin and one during the holiday season.
To date, 64 students have participated in Silicon North Stars. The first group of participants is just getting ready to apply to college, and the hope, said Mary Grove, is that some of them will end up working in tech or in Silicon Valley after they graduate.
“Diversity is a huge issue here in Silicon Valley, of course, and one of our long-term goals is to help build up that pipeline of strong talent. Part of that is inspiring them to believe that it is possible, that they can have a place here,” said Mary Grove.