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Greater Boston Summer Programs: An interview with Blake Sims of Epiic Solutions

Has your middle or high schooler found something creatively and/or intellectually enriching for the summer? If not, don’t despair. Many summer programs and camps in the Boston area still have openings.

One outstanding summer opportunity that focuses on entrepreneurial skills still has spots open. To showcase a series of programs addressing 21st Century skills, we spoke with Blake Sims, the founder and CEO of Epiic Solutions. In Epiic’s one-week camps, students develop their own startup ideas, solving problems along the way, and creating prototypes of products and/or services. They attend presentations by Boston area entrepreneurs and visit startups–in both cases becoming active participants in feedback, problem solving, and creative solutions.

 

Q: Thanks for speaking with us, Blake! And congrats on your awesome organization, a startup itself. Could you briefly describe an example of just one day last year’s students experienced?


A: One of the most memorable days from our Summer 2016 programming occurred halfway into the group’s week.  We had about a dozen young women developing a variety of solution ideas. They had already conducted interviews to learn more about the problems they were exploring and were beginning to prototype options. We had two afternoon field trips, one at danger!Awesome, a fabrication lab in Central Square (Cambridge) that’s open to the community and has lots of amazing prototyping tools. Then, we walked down the street to IDEO Cambridge, where we learned more about the power of design and the different types of people who work together in their organization. On a tour of the office, the teens got to meet lots of diverse people and learn about the variety of projects going on, including testing out a new VR game! It was an awesome field trip that reinforced the value of prototyping and teamwork. Many of the students reflected that these two field trips were by far their favorite experiences of the week.

Epiic students visit Google. Blog post from Open Door, Concord and Acton tutoring company.
Epiic students visit Google

Q: What kinds of things do students learn from entrepreneurs’ presentations?

A: Entrepreneurs are really engaging and love to talk about their experiences and their startups! Their enthusiasm is often contagious and teens quickly get caught up in the energy. The best presenters are often the ones who reflect honestly on both the successes and challenges they’ve had. Many have dealt with failure in various ways: some weren’t the “typical” student that excelled in high school or college, and many have needed to do major pivots or iterations in their startups in order to better meet the needs of their customers. Students also love serving as a focus group for a presenter’s ideas, where they get to test out the startup’s product or service and provide feedback. No guest speaker or field trip is ever the same, which really helps teens learn about the various college and career pathways available in the startup world.

 

Q: We know that STEM stands for Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math.  Your website mentions STEAM skills. What does the A stand for?

A: It’s for art. Creativity is a key element when bringing an idea to life; developing innovative solutions requires imagination and the ability to think outside the box. Building something isn’t just about tactics. It’s also about whether you can build something unique and new that delights customers. Entrepreneurs and startup teams need to balance STEM-related knowledge with creativity and design. Startups are a blend of the arts and sciences, hence our STEAM summer programs.

Epiic students on a field trip. Blog post from Open Door, Concord and Acton tutoring company
Epiic students on a field trip

Q: Could you describe one or two of the outstanding team projects from last year?

A: The startup ideas teens present at the culminating pitch competition are always impressive. We invite local investors and funders to serve as judges at the event, and many comment that the teen pitches are more advanced and polished than many they’ve seen from experienced entrepreneurs! One project that stands out was from our Social Impact Startups 2016 program, called DIRT. The team wanted to find more efficient ways to handle food waste, especially at restaurants. They went through tons of iterations of their idea, and by the end of the week, they felt they were behind their peers because their startup was still very much in idea phase (versus having a more tangible prototype). However, rather than try to hide how far along their prototype was, they focused on how many different ideas they tried and the decisions they made based on customer feedback. The judges were so impressed by the process the teens experienced during the week and how they leveraged that work in their pitch!

 

Q: What is the average number of students in a class?

A: We typically have between 10-15 students in our summer programs. It’s a balance between having a variety of perspectives in the room and forming diverse teams of 2-4 students, and the challenge with managing that many students, as we use public transit for afternoon field trips. When we run workshops that don’t involve travel, we often have between 25-30 participants.

 

Q: What cities/towns does the program pull from?

A: One of the reasons we love running summer programs is that we bring together students from all over Greater Boston. We often have students from other cities–and even international teens–who are in Boston for the summer or just for our program! We run our programs out of Impact Hub Boston which is right in the center of the city and easily accessible. Last year we had teens join us on the Commuter Rail from Lawrence, a teen who took a ferry from Hingham, teens who came into town with their parents from Lincoln and Lexington, and some who walked or biked from Boston and Brookline. Our programs are a great way for teens to engage with peers from all over, exposing them to different perspectives and backgrounds.  

 

Q: What programs still have openings for this summer?

A: One in July and two in August:

STEAM Startups Option 1, July 17-21: A great way for 78th-10th graders to explore how startups use science,m technology, engineering, art, and math to build innovative products and services.

Social Impact Startups, August 7-11: Perfect for 9th-12th graders who are passionate about making positive change in their communities. We’ll explore issues like access to food, clean transportation and energy, education, and many more!

Free-Style Startups, August 14-18: An open-ended program that’s great for 9th-12th graders who are interested in all kinds of creative ideas (STEM Social Impact, Creative Arts, more).


Just as students learn to do at Epiic, you might wish to explore new and different ideas that enrich your students’ learning! Here are some listing and programs still accepting students.

 

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