Academy Students Inspired by Alumni Entrepreneurs

By Noelle Nakaoka ’20
President Punahou Entrepreneurship Club

Although COVID-19 may have disrupted the school year, I decided to continue pursuing projects through Punahou’s Academy Entrepreneurship Club. Within a few weeks of the announcement that the Punahou campus would remain closed through the end of the school year, Mark Loughridge, director of the Case Accelerator for Student Entrepreneurship (CASE), and I launched the Coding for Entrepreneurs online course.

The four-week Webex class, open to all Academy students, explores innovation and technology through the lens of entrepreneurship. It’s taught by Greg Mittleider, preceptor in computer science at Harvard University.

The student response was overwhelmingly positive. Two sections of 20 students were formed, and a waitlist quickly grew. Punahou administrators also got behind the effort. “I’ve never seen all the senior leadership respond so quickly to a student proposal,” Loughridge said.

Participating students aren’t required to have any coding experience and there are no grades or tests. The course focuses on discussions about prominent innovators and innovations that have shaped the tech industry, then provides hands-on learning through coding activities.

During the discussions, Mr. Mittleider focuses on the decisions that innovators made at a young age to attain a high level of success. “It’s easy to interview [entrepreneur and Punahou alumnus and Trustee] Steve Case ’76 today and ask, ‘how did you do it?’” he said. “But to go back and look at Steve Case in 1995, when he was just starting out and asking him, ‘how are you going to do it?’ is a different conversation.”

Not only do students learn about the greatest innovators, but these lessons are made personal to them knowing that many are Punahou alumni. “These incredible alumni help current Punahou students set higher standards for themselves,” Evan Foster ’23 said. “It takes away any fears of dreaming big.”

During one hands-on workshop, we created our own “eBuy” auction site – a take on alumnus and Punahou Trustee Pierre Omidyar’s ’84 eBay – through Scratch, a block-based visual programming language. This taught coding skills, but also the plausibility of following in the footsteps of accomplished innovators to find our own niche.

“Some people might not have thought making a software company or a social media company was possible until they took this course,” Cole Soronaka ’21 said. “It opens students’ eyes to see something bigger.”

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