For this new edition of #HowWeGotThis, we are exchanging with Hanna, Madeleine, Nicolas, Pierre and Eden, the Gr10 students who recently won first prize in the 2021 LFSF entrepreneurial competition, Start’Up Lycée. They’re sharing their experience of the 48hr event and describe how, in the unique circumstances brought by the pandemic, they successfully worked together to propose an effective and appealing solution to this year’s challenge they called : “Simply Seaweed”.
LFSF : Hi all, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Could you start by telling us a little more about you?
Hanna: I was born in Laguna Beach California. Our family moved to San Francisco from southern California when I was 6 years old, just before I started 1st grade at the LFSF’s Corte Madera campus. Since I was barely walking, I have enjoyed dancing and ballet and still today it is my most favorite hobby. I love the physical, artistic and therapeutic aspects of it which keeps me recharged and reenergized in between academic work. I am motivated by tackling challenges and pushing myself out of my comfort zone - whether it’s a difficult piano piece, ballet combination or an AP course. Most importantly, I am passionate about solving problems and always strive to make a difference.
Madeleine: Hello! I was born in France but have lived in Austin, Mauritius, and now California. I've been at the Lycée since CE2, so going on eight years now. I love to ski, windsurf, and cook and I'm always motivated by finding something new or going a little further into a subject that interests me.
Pierre: I have lived in San Francisco my whole life, and have studied at LFSF for my entire academic career. Outside of school, my passion is programming, but I also love cooking and baking for my family. My main motivation stems from my desire to live life to the fullest extent, thus pushing me to set myself up for it.
Eden: Hi! Thank you so much for including me in this. I was born in San Francisco and have spent the majority of my life living in the Bay Area, however, from ages 3-6 I lived in Charlotte, North Carolina. I enjoy writing and drawing, but for sports, the two main things I do are horseback riding and track. I am motivated by the amazing people I’m surrounded by, to try to be my best self.
Nicolas: I was born in the Bay Area and have lived here for the majority of my life, except for 2 years I spent in Switzerland (2012-2014). Likewise, I started attending LFSF at 3 years old, and except for the first and second grade, I have been here my whole life. I play team sports - I started playing soccer as a toddler and played until I was about thirteen years old, when I made the transition towards team handball. I've always enjoyed working as a team towards a certain goal, and doing my part to achieve it, and soccer and handball do just that. I've also been involved in Basque dance since I was very young, but only recently have I actually started to appreciate and enjoy it once I started to see the sense of community and cultural pride built around Basque dance here in the Bay. As a more recent hobby, I've been mainly focusing on independently producing, writing, recording and distributing my own music, as I love the creative process and little steps I must take in order to complete a song. It's just like solving a puzzle one piece at a time, until you're left with a beautiful picture. I'm not really sure what motivates me, but if I had to guess, I would say that making myself proud and seeing a project to its completion play a large role, along with competition with others. I think the competitive nature of Start'Up Lycée, and the fact that i was working with my team to win a prize pushed me to actively participate and put in as much effort as possible to help my team succeed.
LFSF : You and your team are the winners of the 2021 edition of Start’Up Lycée, a competition introducing Gr 10 students to the process of launching a startup. Congratulations! Can you describe your project and its relation to the theme “Food for good : Transforming food into a vehicle for change” ?
Pierre: Our project is named Simply Seaweed, a company responsible for producing a kelp burger. After brainstorming ways to create “Food for good”, we decided to base our product off of seaweed because of its incredible sustainability (a zero-input food that sequesters carbon). Our main mission was to provide a healthy alternative to non-sustainable farming.
By using seaweed, as an alternative bio-friendly meat substitute for burgers, our company Simply Seaweed contributes to healthier air quality, reducing animal suffering and cruelty, and healthier eating habits.
Eden: We were thinking about our prompt which was “food for good” and then began thinking about products such as impossible burgers, when we thought it would be an interesting idea to make a healthier burger using more sustainable methods and ingredients. What differentiates our burger from ones such as an impossible burger is that it is in fact much, much healthier.
Nicolas: This project takes locally and ethically grown seaweed and mixes it with organic ingredients (like chickpeas, flaxseed, mushrooms, kokumi, etc..) to create a seaweed based patty that serves as an alternative for meat. I believe Madeleine first proposed the idea of farming seaweed to create a seaweed-based food, and through brainstorming as a group, we gradually settled on the idea of creating a seaweed patty. Because seaweed represents a quickly growing market, is incredibly sustainable on an environmental and ecological level, and presents a plethora of health benefits, it’s the ultimate food to solve that many problems at once. I feel like people don't fully grasp how incredible seaweed farms are for the environment: one seaweed forest the size of the Amazon can completely reverse ocean acidification, and can harbor a massive ecosystem filled with diverse animals and ocean creatures.
Madeleine: Consumers would not only be staying away from the extremely unsustainable meat industry, they would also be eating a healthy, zero input food that sequesters carbon and nitrogen. Unlike Impossible or Beyond, Simply Seaweed's ingredients are recognisable, healthy, and much more sustainable than a traditional meat patty.
Hanna: By using seaweed, as an alternative bio-friendly meat substitute for burgers, our company Simply Seaweed contributes to healthier air quality, reducing animal suffering and cruelty, and healthier eating habits. All of these contributions are consistent with the theme “Food for good”.
(Simply Seaweed Logo)
LFSF : This year, the event looked quite different than in previous years. Can you tell us more about the competition and how it was organized from the first day to the finale? What was your favorite part?
Nicolas: On the first day, we were given 3 hours to convene in our groups and brainstorm a general idea on what we wanted to base our company on, and to begin thinking about the competition, the business model, and the overall structure of our company. We started off the next day by working on the innovation aspect of our product, and soon after on our one minute pitch, to introduce our idea to the judges and to our competitors. After the pitch, we worked on the viability of our company and its business model, and started to get prepared for the larger, more important pitch coming up the next day. On the final day, our group started the morning off by getting right to work on our five minute pitch. I would say my favorite part of the whole process was definitely working in a breakout room with my group, both working on the pitch, or even just the brainstorming of ideas.
Madeleine: The competition was all online. Each half-day we were assigned to a new mentor who would coach us through the business plan, the financial models, the pitches, and more. We had 48 hours to create a startup and pitch it to the judges. My favorite part was definitely the first one-minute pitch. Explaining a product in such a limited time frame forces you to really think about the essential elements and values of the company, which really helped us refine our idea.
(Pierre, Nicolas, Hanna and Madeleine, discussing with their coach over Zoom)
Eden: It was organized quite well in my opinion, considering the parameters that there were because of Covid-19. Everyone was on zoom, including all the teachers, coaches and students that participated. We had the chance to work on it for three days and each day we got to work with different coaches and teachers who helped us to finalize our project. My favorite part was probably being able to learn all the different parts that go into creating a business. It was a very fun experience for me.
Hanna: From my perspective, the organization was nice and simple. We were given the dates for the event which spanned three days, with the first two days focused on research and development of our idea, culminating with our pitch presentation on the third day. The highlight of the event for me was the collaboration and brainstorming with my peers and of course seeing our idea shape up so wonderfully in such a short period of time.
Pierre: We spent the majority of the time in our groups with a mentor, brainstorming our project, discussing the innovation it brought, and finding its financial viability. Instead of presenting our project live, we prepared a video pitch on the last day and answered questions after it was broadcasted. The event finally ended with a very tense award ceremony, where we received the amazing news that we had won!
Explaining a product in such a limited time frame forces you to really think about the essential elements and values of the company, which really helped us refine our idea.
LFSF: Since the event happened mostly online, and since, at that time, students were learning from home as the campus was closed, following the holidays, how did you manage to collaborate and work together as a team to successfully develop and pitch such a project?
Eden: We had a decent amount of hours to work on the project which were spread out over the course of three days. We were able to divide the sections that we had to cover for our final pitch into five groups which worked out because that’s how many people were in our group. While we were only able to communicate over zoom, I did not find this to be a large set back as everyone took the project very seriously and I believe that we are all happy with how it turned out.
Pierre: We met on Zoom for about 15 hours over the course of three days to create a final presentation of our project. We were helped by mentors who rotated between groups every half-day, and who offered their experience in the field to guide us. For the presentation, we split the work between the problem, the solution, the market, the financial model, and our deployment plan.
Nicolas: We had one large Google doc where we put everything--every idea, every word of our pitch, and all our data--and a google slides presentation, where we put all our finalized work together for our final pitch. When we started out, no one had any specific roles, so we all ended up researching and doing things together. However, once we established our main ideas, we were able to branch off into our own little 'departments' and have each person play a specific role in the final presentation.
Madeleine: We also had an iMessage chat to send links and information and documented our findings on a Google docs.
Hanna: The virtual collaboration was a non-issue from my perspective because by now, we have become quite accustomed to working together remotely for almost a year.
(Simply Seaweed team pitching their project)
LFSF: How much preparation does this event entail? Had you been working and practicing prior to the event for a while?..
Madeleine: The event did not require much preparation since the point was to create a startup in a limited time frame. We did all come in with possible ideas to throw around in order to make sure we wouldn't get stuck in the beginning.
Nicolas: We had little preparation going into the event. We knew what the event was, who was in our group, and what the theme was, but no one had any concrete ideas going into it, and we hadn't really communicated as a team. By the time the event started, no one actually had a precise idea for a company and everyone was ready to listen to each other's concepts and ideas. We ended up just putting together bits and pieces of everybody's different ideas, and we were able to come up with a concrete, and exact idea.
Eden: We came up with our idea the first day and slowly managed to bring it to life throughout the following days.
Hanna: Our understanding was that the intent was to only leverage the allotted three days to brainstorm and develop our idea, and this approach was by design. For me, this approach added to the rigor and thrill of the experience, working smartly and effectively under time pressure.
LFSF: How did you work with your coach? What do you feel you gained from his/her mentoring?
Hanna: Coaches visited us in our breakout rooms. I enjoyed the different styles that they each offered, some were more directive in their guidance, while others sparked our creativity by asking relevant questions. It was interesting and I enjoyed learning about their perspectives from the industry and their own personal experiences.
Pierre: We usually conversed amongst ourselves, our mentor responding to our questions and occasionally offering advice. They were essential to our success, using their experience to help us in all areas of our project.
Nicolas: Our coaches helped us in different ways throughout the development of our concept, whether it be by helping us with differentiating ourselves from competitors, coming up with the perfect pitch, or finding a viable business model for the company. Their input and help was incredibly useful and I doubt we would have gotten first place had it not been for the aid we received from our coaches. Our coaches helped us quite a bit with learning how to market our product, with creating the perfect presentation, and finding a working business model.
Madeleine: Yes, the coaches helped us get from the theoretical stage to the practical stage. It was especially helpful to work with people who did this for a living since they could tell us what was expected of a real startup.
Eden: I feel like I gained a lot of insight from them on how a business is run which was quite interesting to learn.
We had the chance to work on it for three days and each day we got to work with different coaches and teachers who helped us to finalize our project. My favorite part was probably being able to learn all the different parts that go into creating a business. It was a very fun experience for me.
LFSF : How do you feel and what does it mean for you to win the 1st place in the competition?
Eden: When I found out we won, I was very excited and proud of our team. I still am. What winning 1st place means for me is that we have a chance to actually pursue this idea, which is something that I am very interested in doing.
Hanna: Needless to say, it is thrilling to have our work be recognized. Still, I am sure I would have enjoyed the event as much, regardless of any ranking because the most rewarding aspect of the experience for me was working with my friends, creating a product and showcasing it as a team.
Pierre: I felt ecstatic when we won the 1st place in the competition, both due to the fierce competition - every idea presented had a very good chance of success- and our deep involvement in the project. I put as much effort as I could into it, so it felt immensely rewarding to hear that we had won.
Nicolas: I think I can speak on behalf of my group, that it honestly feels great to win 1st place in the event. I can't say I was expecting such awesome results with such an exotic and unorthodox product like seaweed. It's definitely a confidence booster when it comes to what I want to do in the future and what i want to study in college, and it helped me prove to myself that business really is the career path that I want to take.
I felt ecstatic when we won the 1st place in the competition, both due to the fierce competition - every idea presented had a very good chance of success- and our deep involvement in the project.
Madeleine: It felt great to win of course but especially because it gave us an incentive to develop a product and put the work we did over the weekend to good use.
(The announcement of the winners - Finale of Start'Up Lycée 2021 online)
LFSF: So now, what comes next?..Are you going to pursue the development of your project?
Eden: I truly want to pursue its development. That was the plan, so I hope we can stick to it. I think it would definitely be interesting to see whether or not we could bring it to life.
Madeleine: We are currently planning to start fine-tuning the recipe for our seaweed burger before considering any further development.
Pierre: The creation of a delicious kelp burger will be difficult, as we would have to create a recipe that could compete with existing alternatives, and find places to distribute it. We will attempt to experiment with it, and thanks to the prize money, Simply Seaweed may eventually find success.
Nicolas: I think when we planned out the business model, we found that it would require a lot of time and attention, which wouldn't exactly be possible if we were in school, so we wouldn't be able to gain all the partnerships in mind and produce as much as we would if we were all working on this full time. With that being said, I do still want to try to develop the recipe at some point, and I'm curious to see if it tastes as good as we predicted it to. Maybe when we finally get out of these unfortunate circumstances, our group can come together one day and make the Simply Seaweed burger a reality.
Hanna: There are quite a few ideas floating in our minds in further pursuing ways to change the food experience in making the world better. Whether that would be a continuation of the seaweed effort or yet another innovative idea, we hope to have something to share in the future.
LFSF: Thank you very much for your time! Before wrapping up, do you want to share a few words to the people who helped you during this project?
Hanna: I couldn’t be more thankful to my team for their collaboration, creativity and simply the most enjoyable working experience we had together. Naturally, I am thankful to the school administration for providing such a wonderful opportunity for us, and last but not least, the teachers and the coaches who spent time with us, and M. Combeau who took on the lead role for the program.
The whole competition was something I had been looking forward to since I first heard about it around two years ago, and I had so much fun. It's definitely an experience I will never forget!
Eden: Thank you so much for inviting me to answer these questions! I would like to thank Mr. Combeau for making Startup Lycee such an enjoyable experience. I would also like to thank all the teachers and coaches who participated and gave amazing guidance. Last but not least, I’d like to thank my team: Madeleine, Hanna, Nicolas and Pierre. I had a lot of fun with this project and could not have done it without you all.
Nicolas: I just want to give a huge shout out to everyone else who participated in the contest, because every group obviously worked incredibly hard and put in a ton of effort, and I think each group had amazing ideas and even better presentations. The whole competition was something I had been looking forward to since I first heard about it around two years ago, and I had so much fun. It's definitely an experience I will never forget!
#HowWeGotThis is our series of testimonials showing how our teams and community are pioneering, reinventing themselves and imagine new ways to operate in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.