Sparkathon To Open The Gates Of Design Thinking

Pomona Ventures meets in the hive to discuss how to address problems. (Courtesy of Fabian Fernandez-Han)

Human-centered design thinking, a panel of judges from one of the nation’s fastest growing financial software companies, and a group of eager students will come together this week for a day of collaboration and problem solving.

Sparkathon, hosted by Pomona Ventures and sponsored by Intuit Inc., will take place at The Hive at The Claremont Colleges for the first time April 13. This year’s challenge will explore the different difficulties of artificial intelligence automation within the workforce and the education of workers regarding possible responses to these obstacles.

Although the event is largely focused on creative problem solving, Pomona Ventures hopes that Sparkathon will inspire more people to learn about the entrepreneurship industry and make lasting connections with those who are already involved.

Fabian Fernandez-Han PO ’20, one of the four Pomona Ventures members hosting Sparkathon, said one of their main goals was to make this event more open and welcoming than others of this nature. People are often intimidated by the corporate atmosphere of these types of competitions, Fernandez-Han said.

“At the 5Cs it can be difficult to find direction. A lot of my friends say product management or consulting sounds interesting, but they don’t know where to start,” Fernandez-Han said. “This is especially true for first-generation, low income students who don’t have parents with experience in these industries.”

He said he wants to level the playing field so that anyone can learn more about entrepreneurship.

Another one of the members in charge of Sparkathon, Marie-Nicole Jeffroy-Meynard SC ’18, spoke about her personal experience as a Scripps College student who didn’t get much exposure to the entrepreneurship industry until she joined Pomona Ventures in her junior year.

“As Scripps students, we’re not really pushed to compete in this kind of thing,” Jeffroy-Meynard said. “That’s why I joined — so that I could get exposure to the entrepreneurship and business world. And that’s why I hope this event will act as an introduction for more Scripps students who want to explore that.”

Although this event is the first of its kind, Pomona Ventures hopes to make it a recurring competition with a new challenge or theme every year.

The event will feature a crash course on design thinking — a methodology of solving problems that highlights the consumer and focuses on empathy.

“A really big part of design thinking is solving problems, but also identifying problems to help a specific person or consumer,” said Fernandez-Han, who has previously trained in the method.

The majority of the event will be spent in groups that can be chosen before the competition or placed together by Pomona Ventures.

In creating new groups, Fernandez-Han said that their main goal is to have diversity, whether it be gathering folks from different schools, cultural backgrounds, or levels of experience. This will allow for a greater and more productive range of ideas, he said.

Both Fernandez-Han and Jeffroy-Meynard have emphasized the fact that Sparkathon is open to people of all backgrounds and interests, and will act simply as an introduction to the world of entrepreneurship.

“We’re trying to make it fun with snacks and break times, so it doesn’t feel too intense like a lot of hackathons,” Jeffroy-Meynard said. “But we still want participants to be able to show off their professional skills in a professional setting.”

The registration is now closed, as they have reached their maximum capacity of 100 participants, and the specific prompt for the competition will remain a secret until the day of.

“I think it’s important for people to know that they don’t need experience in entrepreneurship whatsoever [to register],” Fernandez-Han said. “It’s about students from all over the 5Cs integrating entrepreneurship into something they’re already passionate about.”

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