Acorn accelerates young digital skills

London-based tech skills campaign Acorn Aspirations this week embarks on its second two-week accelerator for young people aged 12-18, helping them to develop startups that tackle social problems in their local communities and across the world.

Acorn, founded in 2014 by social entrepreneur Elena Sinel, is looking to build the world’s largest teen tech accelerator, as well as running hackathons and bootcamps, as part of its effort to bridge the £63bn digital skills gap and give young people the expertise they need to change the world with technology.

y1cMW4OvThis month’s #AcornAccelerator2 brings together entrepreneurs, mentors and educators looking to empower young people aged 12-18 through a two-week programme at venues across the capital, with east London’s Tobacco Dock as a base.

“We consider ourselves an ‘un-school’ because we encourage students to operate in a way that, in most educational institutions, would be branded ‘cheating’: a combination of collaboration and independent learning,” says Acorn Aspirations.

“Teens leave with an angle of compassion that means they won’t just code for the sake of code; they will focus their passion to more useful ends. They will have gained skills in communication, delegation, pitching, adaptability and human-focused design – skills valued in any industry.”

The Acorn approach helps young people to develop entrepreneurial skills, by bringing them together in teams to build apps and platforms alongside creating a business plan. It deploys principles of design thinking to help identify problems, develop solutions, build a business plan and take that business to market.

Its programmes explore artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, introducing young people to technologies like these that have the potential to change lives.

Mentors and speakers include innovators from Stripe, Seedcamp, GiveVision, CrowdEmotion, Skills Matter, NexusCX, GeekGirls Meetup and Techstars.

Acorn’s last hackathon, during June’s London Technology Week, attracted over 120 people, giving 40 12-18 year-olds the chance to use artificial intelligence to address mental health issues like depression, anxiety, stress, phobias and more.

Among notable graduates from the first Acorn Accelerator and subsequent hackathon was 12-year-old Caitlin Glover, whose Syper startup deployed virtual reality to help primary school students with dyslexia.

Acorn is looking to bridge the skills gap and nurture the next generation of tech talent. It works to ensure that pupils come from all backgrounds, particularly girls and teenagers from underrepresented communities. Over 50% of the Acorn Aspirations community are girls.

Acorn grows tech aspirations: October 2016 hack weekender