Director of Programs Nick Honegger instructs during VentureLab's Gamer course. Courtesy photo.
Director of Programs Nick Honegger instructs during VentureLab's Gamer course. Courtesy photo.

A child entering school today could one day compete for a job that does not yet exist. This prophecy has industry leaders demanding intentional entrepreneurship and innovation education in schools and many educators have responded with project-based learning in traditional classroom settings to incorporate the 21st century skills of creative problem-solving, collaboration, and presentation.

Local nonprofit entrepreneurship and innovation curriculum creator VentureLab is committed to helping K-12 students develop those skills in a robust and meaningful way. The goal is to catch students early, especially girls. VentureLab Founder and CEO Cristal Glangchai developed the approach while working with 3 Day Startup at Geekdom. She noticed how few girls were involved in the competition, and wanted to catch them before they were conditioned away from tech and business.

VentureLab wants to put all children, not just those naturally interested in technology, in positions to compete for jobs that improve their economic stability and, ultimately, the world around them. For some students it may be apps and software that spark the imagination, but for many, it will be problems that need to be solved.

Luz Cristal Sanchez Glangchai, VentureLab founder.
VentureLab Founder and CEO Cristal Glangchai

“Technology itself doesn’t create value until we apply it to create products and services that will benefit society,” Glangchai said.

Learning-by-doing is helpful in every subject, but it is essential to teaching entrepreneurship. If science fairs and dramatically presented book reports are the tangible products of traditional education, the quintessential project of entrepreneurship curriculum is the startup competition.

“It feels very much like a science fair or hackathon,” said Claudette Guerrero of VentureLab. “You go through the entrepreneurial mindset from A-Z.”

On Saturday, May 21, Trinity University’s Center for the Sciences and Innovation will host 12 teams of young entrepreneurs ages 5-18 who will compete in VentureLab’s first ever VentureLaunch Startup Competition. Students come from independent school districts and charter schools across the city. Homeschoolers are welcome, too.

For those who are curious: the team of five-and-six-year-olds is creating a less expensive, “more intense” (their words), comic book delivered to your door step.

“You should have seen (the five and six year olds) presenting,” Guerrero said. “One of them was updating his slide show as we (gave feedback).”

: VentureLab director of volunteers Cassie Robinson instructs students at Youth Startup. Courtesy photo.
VentureLab Director of Volunteers Cassie Robinson instructs students at a recent VentureLab Youth Startup. Courtesy photo.

Teams will compete in two tiers, Inspire and Accelerate. The Inspire tier focuses on the development of ideas in a team setting. Accelerate focuses on turning ideas into business plans and products, and then launching those products.

The top students in two age groups (5-13 and 14-18) will have the option to spend the next year with VentureLab mentors over the course of the next year in quarterly meetings at the VentureLab headquarters.

The top three teams in category will also receive seed money for their startups. Through a partnership with Grok Interactive, Trinity University, Codeup, and Geekdom, and TechBloc a total of $15,000 is available. In addition to adding a real life incentive, the money and mentoring will incorporate budget and scale into the learning experience.

With the growth of San Antonio’s startup economy, more mentors have become available to the teams, giving them access to a wider range of experiences.

At the heart of most project-based learning, and especially innovation curriculums, is the question, “What problem do you want to solve?” Students are encouraged to look at the world through the lens of what has yet to be done, rather than what has been successful in the past.

“With our rapidly changing global economy many careers that exist now may not exist in the future, so it will be up to our students to create the new ones,” Glangchai said.

VentureLab itself is a product of this innovative, problem solving mentality. Its proactive approach to bringing innovation and entrepreneurship to the classroom has earned the nonprofit a CLASSY award nomination. The CLASSY awards identify nonprofit and social enterprise programs working toward global change through innovative accessible means, as opposed to the giant, corporate nonprofits.

Increased connectivity though mobile technology and social media has placed power into the hands of a young and idealistic generation. Those with the skills to develop, monetize, and scale could see their solutions explode into powerful agents in the fight against issues like hunger, justice, and economic development.

VentureLab is like a multiplier for this idea of change-making. It is the innovative solution to the problem of needing more innovative solutions.

Top image: Director of Programs Nick Honegger instructs during VentureLab’s Gamer course. Courtesy photo.

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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog,, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.