The future needs smart solutions – and who could develop them better than the generation of digital natives?! To support them during the implementation stage of their digital ideas, the Univations GmbH and Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) jointly offer a new initiative, the “Digital Talent Accelerator” (DTA). The project was established in 2019 based on a call for new digital initiatives l by the Ministry of Economics, Science and Digitalisation of the State of Saxony-Anhalt.
David Köhler, a studied cultural scientist and one of the three project officers that are responsible for DTA, has agreed to provide some insights into the initiative for this PIETE E-Zine:
“The main aim of the project is to raise awareness for the possibility of founding a digital start-up and to enable pupils to do so” David Köhler says. “Whether it is an app, a website, a VR application or a digital substitution plan for their own school, the participants are supported by coaches from the IT start-up scene in developing and working out their digital projects. They learn how to transform their ideas into a business plan and what steps it takes to put it into practice” he continues. DTA curriculum consists of four different “sections”. Two of them focus on IT (web-coding and app-coding), the other two concentrate on business management (business/finances and marketing/design). The pupils are entirely free to choose the section which they want to pursue.
The project addresses pupils in schools of Saxony-Anhalt, who are in 8th to 12th grade (age: 14-19 years). To add, the DTA project schedule runs in parallel to the overall school year plan of the participating pupils. The main motivation for pupils to take part in DTA is the possibility to implement their own project from an idea to a fully working prototype. “Also learning how to write a software program, to set up a marketing campaign or to create a corporate identity can be the motivation for a participation“ David Köhler adds.
In addition, the initiative offers a series of workshops for teachers: The main topics of these advanced trainings are digitization of education, the use of digital media, and the integration of digital topics and methods in the classroom. Teachers are informed about the chances of the digitalization and related business topics, so they can discuss these with their pupils.
In November 2019, the project started with its first round, which is divided into three interconnected phases: First, interdisciplinary teams develop and substantiate their start-up ideas from the digital environment at a boot camp (Phase 1). However, pupils without a start-up idea are also motivated to participate. In fact, DTA facilitates the forming of new teams and enables them to jointly design and specify new ideas on the spot. Further, all teams receive support from coaches and founders from the IT scene. Once completed, the specific idea sketch of each teams is submitted.
In the second phase, the submitted ideas are reviewed by mentors that prepare constructive feedback the teams may exploit to improve their concepts. Based on these evaluations an individual workshop program is designed for each team. Coaches and founders from the IT scene support the pupils in deepening their skills and competences, developing a prototype, and imparting the necessary knowledge.
The third phase is all about presenting the ideas, including prototypes, at the final pitch-event to an expert audience of representatives from regional IT and start-up companies. Finally, the best ideas are honoured and rewarded. In fact, the first full DTA round was successfully completed with such a closing pitch-event in July 2020. However, other than planned, the event had to be implemented virtually due to the COVID-19 crisis that evolved in the middle of the first DTA round.
When asked how the piloting of the project went during the times of COVID-19, David Köhler replied: “The first year was a big challenge. The kick-off event was held in the planned way, but all workshops and the final pitch-event were held online. This was foreseen differently. Despite these sudden changes, we were very impressed and relieved, that the motivation of the pupils was not harmed. They worked hard, had a lot of questions to the mentors and developed very detailed and promising business concepts and products”.
The digital pitch-event of DTA. Credits: Ulf Büschleb
The mentors, who support the participants with detailed feedback on their ideas and (business) plans, are specialised in various fields. There are founders of local start-up companies (e.g. 3DQR GmbH and DIE FRISCHEMANUFAKTUR GmbH), IT specialists who carry out coding-workshops for girls (e.g. codegirls.de), founding consultants (e.g. MLU Transfer and Start-up service) as well as representatives from science (e.g. Institute of Computer Science of the MLU) and politics (Ministry of Economics, Science and Digitalisation of the State of Saxony-Anhalt).
A dedicated mentor network will also support participating pupils in the next DTA round, from November 2020 until July 2021. “At the moment we are organising the upcoming events and are very glad to bring in the experiences from the first period. The online workshops worked out well, so from now on we will implement both digital and analogue workshops. This will also simplify the participation of pupils from rural areas” he says with anticipation.
The Digital Talent Accelerator is an initial step into the world of entrepreneurship. Participants, who subsequently want to start-up based on their DTA experience may seek direct service and consultation of established stakeholders in the region, such as the MLU Transfer- and Start-up-service. After piloting DTA in 2019-2020, it is expected to become an integral part of the extra-curricular learning opportunities landscape for Saxony-Anhalt pupils in each of the upcoming years.
Digital Talent Accelerator is carried out as part of the ego. Business start-up offensive of the State of Saxony-Anhalt and funded by the Ministry of Economics, Science and Digitalisation of the State of Saxony-Anhalt and the European Social Fund (ESF).
Want to know more about the project? Visit Digital Talent Accelerator or get in touch with the DTA Team (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Authored by: Sandra Bier & Florian Bratzke, Univations, cover photo: Unrau Fotografie