Academics / Community

Dana girls innovate

“We were able to make what seemed like the impossible, possible,” says Alex Naddaff’ ’16. This summer, Dr. Gwen Ortemeyer and Middle School math teacher Michelle Gerdes welcomed nine Dana Hall Upper School students to campus for The Girls Summer Entrepreneurial Program (GSEP), a ten-day course offered for the first time this year.

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The GSEP teamed up with EKOCYCLE, a collaborative company by singer and the Coca-Cola Company. The participants, who were rising juniors and seniors, were given the challenge to create an eco-friendly product that they could envision being sold by EKOCYCLE, a company that aims to encourage sustainable living by making cool lifestyle products out of recycled goods. The program concluded with the teams pitching their business plans to potential investors in a contest called “The Dragons Lair.”

BluTide Swimwear, created by Nadaff, Abby Kaplan ’16, Tiffany Lau ’15, Alia Malek ’16, Attabelle Wasniewski ’16 and alumna mentor Margaret Efthim, produced a swimwear line where each top had a specific cut out design that creates unique tan lines. After wearing all three specially designed swim tops, they create one unique tan line design on the wearer’s back. BluTide’s mission was to reinforce skin protection by emphasizing the use of sun block, because the more sun block was used with BluTide’s swim tops, the more prominent and clear the tan line would be.

Team Spark, consisting of Ashley Davidson ’15, Leo Eckstein ’16, Abby Kelly ’15, and Susanna Maheras ’16, created a product called “Bycicharge,” a cell phone charger and speaker, powered by the dynamics of riding a bike. Byciharge has plans to expand to Copenhagen and Seattle, cities with a high biking population, in order to secure potential lineups with City Bike and Hubway, popular bike companies.

IMG_3503 copyOver the course of the ten days, participants were educated on finance, venture capitalism, strategizing, market research. and competitors, which enabled them to create a business plan to present to investors and to become familiar with the process of developing a product as well as enhance problem-solving skills. “It was an MBA level course,” Dr. Ortemeyer states. In order to attend the program, participants did not need a business idea, because EKOCYCLE was the starting point for creating a venture idea, according to Dr. Ortemeyer.

Malek, of team BluTide, said that “the schedule was action packed, and so much fun.” The participants went on field trips to the Natick Mall and Wellesley center for market research and inspiration. They traveled to Cambridge to tour the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) and learned about a company called Preserve products, which creates products from recycled goods. During the CIC field trip, students had the chance to speak with Vicky Wu Davis, founder of Youth Cities, an entrepreneurial program for teens, who spoke at Dana last year about her program. Davis also served as one of the panelist judges at The Dragons Lair. Naddaff described Davis as an empowering female entrepreneur, and one that she looks up to; she said, “seeing successful woman engage in this field, is inspiring.”

As The Dragons Lair competition approached, Dana Hall alumni were called in to help the girls with their “elevator pitch,” a 30-60 second pitch about their products, and their five-minute presentations of their businesses. Wasniewski stated, “we were really motivated to make our products the best that they could be.” Maheras from team Spark described it as “a fun, motivating type of competition.”

On the final day of the competition, the two teams eagerly awaited their chance to pitch their ideas to potential investors at The Dragons Lair. In addition to Davis, the judges included venture capitalist Dr. Jens Eckstein, business consultant Miriam Esteve ’81, and financial and asset management Paul Petracca. After much deliberation from the judges, Bycicharge took first place and was awarded a cash prize. Both teams may have an opportunity to travel to Atlanta, Georgia, to pitch their ideas to the founders of EKOCYCLE.

Highlights from the program include working with the alumnae mentors, Efthim and Sarah Brakeman. Naddaff also enjoyed working with Dr. Ortemeyer, who “knew everything there was to know about business, all while making it fun to learn.” The GSEP will be offered again next summer, as the organizers hope to create opportunities for participants and expand the program to more Dana Hall students.

The success of the program has inspired participants Wasniewski, Naddaff, and me to start Dana Hall’s first Entrepreneurs Club, to educate others and create excitement about the world of entrepreneurship. Would you like to know if you’re a good candidate for the program? Dr. Ortemeyer says that a good candidate for a GSEP participant “is someone who is creative, a hard worker, and not afraid to talk to people that they don’t know. An entrepreneur is someone who is independent thinking and willing to take risks.” Keep an eye out for a GSEP presentation from participants this October.IMG_3430 2



Photo: The two GSEP teams present their business ideas. Photo Credit: the Advancement Office at Dana.

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