Noble Impact Seeks Lead Engineer To Scale Access To Opportunity For K-12 Students

Noble Impact Seeks Lead Engineer To Scale Access To Opportunity For K-12 Students

We are looking for an education-obsessed Lead Engineer to join our team in scaling access to opportunity for students in the K-12 system. If you or someone you know gets pumped about the idea of building a tech team and a product that helps students use technology to share their personal stories and experiences with their communities, while connecting with college and work opportunities, read on and let’s chat!

The Position

As Lead Engineer at Noble Impact, you will be responsible for scaling a social-enabled digital portfolio platform while being the Captain Kirk of our U.S.S. Enterprise: “running point on big projects, midnight deploys, spearheading technical debt efforts, [creating and] following best practices, digging into the nastiest bugs, etc.”

Working within an Agile development methodology, you will lead and collaborate with other engineers and work closely with the Product team to deliver an exceptional user experience to our key stakeholders: student, teachers, and school administrators. In addition, you will stay atop new technologies and frameworks, assist with prototyping and proof-of-concepts, and ensure a high level of code quality from the team.

Beyond being a generalist developer with a will to lead and an ever-expansive desire to learn, our ideal candidate would be passionate about disrupting education, have an entrepreneurial spirit, and possess a background in managing startup tech teams, particularly with a focus on social networking-based products. This person would care a great deal about making an impact on the world and building an exceptional product within the EdTech space. He or she would be not only willing, but excited to get down and dirty with code as an early-stage startup teammate and founding tech lead.

In this role, you will:

  • Lead the development team in execution of the development pipeline and delivery of the organization’s software products to QA and ultimately to production
  • Maintain a hands-on role with both front-end and back-end web (and eventually mobile) development
  • Serve as Scrum Master in agile development process, as key connector to product team
  • Work closely with product owner and team members to decompose stories, design features, and prioritize tasks
  • Tackle arising technical challenges strategically and collaboratively as the tech lead
  • Lead hiring for technology talent, including two junior developers immediately
  • Onboard new tech talent and demonstrate an innate sense of duty for following best practices
  • Mentor junior developers, challenging them to be independent, while also providing necessary guidance

You’re our ideal teammate if you have:

  • Experience recruiting and managing great engineers and designers
  • Experience as technical lead on an agile scrum team
  • Thorough understanding of agile software development
  • Full-stack development experience, especially building scalable web and mobile apps
  • Passion for education
  • Ability to direct technology stack decisions that aligns with product vision
  • Customer-focused development philosophies
  • Love for Little Rock, Arkansas (where we are based)
  • A desire to change the world

On the technical side, we’re looking for a lead with:

  • Advanced knowledge of HTML, JavaScript, and CSS
  • Proficiency with Git, having experience managing multiple branches of code into development, beta, and production deployment environments
  • Professional experience with the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP).
  • Professional experience with Laravel 5+ or other mature PHP frameworks
  • Professional experience with Vue.js or other advanced JavaScript frameworks
  • Experience with Bootstrap and CSS Preprocessors such as SASS or LESS
  • Experience with automation tools such as Gulp
  • Experience integrating external service APIs, especially the following: SendGrid, ZenDesk, and Google Analytics
  • Experience managing servers and deployments using and Laravel Forge

You can expect:

  • A full-time position with competitive salary
  • Health and dental insurance
  • Flexible working hours and at-home working options
  • Opportunities to attend and speak at conferences
  • Passionate and impact-minded teammates
  • A collaborative, growth-focused, fast-moving culture
  • High-level connectivity within the education ecosystem
  • A vetted, existing, and active beta user base of 500+ local students to jive with

The person who fills the role of Lead Engineer at Noble Impact will collaborate with VP of Product Erica Swallow, who managed the technical MVP building process with a local web development shop. For a look under the hood of the portfolio product or to discuss this role, email or tweet Erica at or @ericaswallow!

The Product

Noble Impact Portfolio Builder

Noble Impact is an education non-profit that provides relevant and purpose-driven education to K-12 students through a project-based and portfolio-driven learning experience. We currently offer a digital portfolio product to 500+ students in Central Arkansas. After running a non-technical MVP built on Weebly and connected to in-class curriculum, we validated customer value from multiple user segments, including students, teachers, school administrators, employers, and college recruiters and built a technical MVP to share with our beta customers.

Our product is built upon Laravel 5 and utilizes Vue.js, MariaDB, Bootstrap, and numerous open source plugins. As Lead Engineer, you should be comfortable guiding architectural and product development decisions based on industry best practices and your experience. You should be highly cognizant of today’s increasing mobile use, especially amongst young people and help us develop with a mobile responsive and performance mindset. We’re looking to build a pleasant and intuitive experience for our student and teachers.

Noble Impact Portfolio Login

The beta product launches in mid-July under management of an exceptional team of contract developers, and we’d like to bring on our full-time development team in August, starting with our Lead Engineer, to take over development.

Our vision for this tool is that it will be the social network and digital portfolio tool that scales access to opportunity for elementary, middle, and high school students. To do that, we need a technology visionary to join our ranks!

We hope you are as excited about changing education as we are. If so, please contact us to talk about joining our team, by connecting with VP of Product Erica Swallow, at or @ericaswallow. The Noble team is also accessible at Please attach your resume, LinkedIn, GitHub, portfolio, and/or other resources that speak to your experience.

Join Us at the Noble Impact Educators Summit!

Join Us at the Noble Impact Educators Summit!

The Noble Impact Educators Summit, a three-day professional development event where educators will challenge one another to rewire education for purpose and relevance, is kicking off this July 27-29, 2016 — will you be there?

Register for the Noble Impact Educators Summit at

Powered by Noble Impact and presented by the Arkansas Department of Career Education, the Summit will convene educators to collaborate, tackle problems, and propose solutions for key educational issues, while also taking a deep dive into interactive sessions focused on facilitation, classroom culture, entrepreneurship education, digital tools, and storytelling.

Featured Speakers

#NobleTalks Speakers

#NobleTalks Speakers. From top left, as listed below:
Jahana Hayes, José Vilson, Rainbow Chen, Patrick Jones, Lisa Gelobter, and Jacob Johnston.

We’re honored to welcome a roster of outstanding educators, students, and education advocates to Little Rock to speak about how we can improve education for all students. Our lineup of featured speakers includes:

  • Jahana Hayes, 2016 National Teacher of the Year
  • José Vilson, Founder of EduColor and NY-based Mathematics Teacher
  • Rainbow Chen, Student Representative, Vermont State Board of Education
  • Patrick Jones, YouTube Math Tutor and Author of “Calculus for Dummies”
  • Lisa Gelobter, Chief Digital Service Officer, U.S. Department of Education
  • Jacob Johnston, Student Entrepreneur and Co-founder,

Throughout the conference, we’re also excited to highlight Noble Impact scholars as speakers on the third day of the Summit, which will showcase student outcomes from within our programs.

Schedule of Events

Noble Impact Educators Summit Schedule of Events

Taking place across three venues — the Clinton School of Public Service, the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce — the Summit kicks off on Wednesday, July 27th, with #NobleTalks, a curated series of talks given by national innovators about inspiring educational moments and achievements. The second day will be focused around a team-based CTE Civic Innovation Challenge, where teachers and community members will collaborate to tackle problems and propose solutions for key education issues proposed by the Arkansas Department of Career Education. On the third and final day of the Summit, teachers will take a deep dive into interactive sessions focused on classroom culture, apprenticeships, digital tools, entrepreneurship education, and facilitation methods.

The Summit will be unlike any other professional development you’ve experienced. Teachers will be presented with opportunities to connect with local business leaders and entrepreneurs, visit Noble Impact’s Innovation Studio, and attend student presentations that result from the Noble Impact classroom experience. Our aim with the Noble Impact Educators Summit is to amplify teacher voice while providing tools to help students reach their full potential.

Register for the Noble Impact Educators Summit at

Noble Impact Educators Summit is a three-day professional development event for educators and school administrators to reimagine what education could be. The summit will take place in Little Rock, Arkansas on July 27-29, 2016. See you there!

Welcome Digital Strategist Trevór Collins to Team Noble Impact!

Welcome Digital Strategist Trevór Collins to Team Noble Impact!

We are pleased to announce that digital strategist Trevór Collins joined our team this week as Noble Impact’s very first Digital Marketing and PR Manager. Trevór will lead the charge in growing Noble Impact’s digital marketing and communications strategy, while also lending his talents in graphic design and videography towards content that will power those initiatives.

Prior to Noble Impact, Trevór worked as a digital media strategist at publishing company Leisure Arts, digital agency Team SI, and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), where he is finishing up his bachelor’s in E-Commerce.

Trevór came highly recommended through the Little Rock entrepreneurial scene, and when I met him early on in the recruiting process, I knew he was going to give the applicant pool a run for its money. We received more than 50 applications and interviewed the top 15% of applicants, and in the end, Trevór’s experience, enthusiasm, and demonstrated excellence pulled him to the top of the pool.

We are excited to bring such a talented digital strategist onto our team and look forward to seeing how Trevór transforms Noble Impact’s digital presence and reach. We also look forward to helping him grow as a young professional and learning from his experiences along the way!

Please join me in welcoming Trevór to the team; if you see him out in the Little Rock community, give him a hearty hello!

10 Student Expectations That All Schools Should Consider

10 Student Expectations That All Schools Should Consider

We’re big on student voice at Noble Impact. Students are the key constituents in the education system, so it only makes sense to include them in the conversation about their education. Right? Well, that’s not always the case. Students are often on the receiving end of the “expectations” conversation.

As most schools around the nation wrap up for summer, I’d urge teachers and school leaders to think about student voice and how they can collect and meet the expectations that their students have of their education. Rather than schools setting expectations for student behavior, achievements, and proficiency, why don’t we all take a step back and make sure that our students’ expectations are truly being heard and met.

This week, I was reminded of the “10 Expectations” list produced by Big Picture Learning, a network of schools that was established in 1995 with the sole mission of putting students directly at the center of their own learning. This list consists of 10 expectations it believes all students should have of their schools. By my gauge, it’s certainly plausible that every student deserves and should have access to an engaging learning environment marked by these expectations.

If you’re looking for a dose of inspiration on what a student-centered learning approach looks like, watch Big Picture Learning’s “10 Expectations” video below. I’ve also included a transcript of the 10 expectations for easy future reading.

The “10 Expectations” that students should have of their schools, as outlined in the above Big Picture Learning video, include:

  1. Relationships. Am I just another face in the classroom, a test score? Or do my teachers know about me and my interests and talents? Do the teachers help me form relationships with peers and adults who might serve as models and coaches?
  2. Relevance. Is it just a series of hoops to jump? Or is the work relevant to my interests? Do my teachers help me understand how my learning contributes to my community and to the world?
  3. Time. Am I expected to learn at a constant pace decided by the teacher, or can I learn at my own pace? Is there time for learning to be deep as well as broad?
  4. Timing. Do all students have to learn things in the same sequence, or can I learn things in an order that fits my learning style or interests?
  5. Play. Is there always pressure to perform? Or do I have opportunities to explore and make mistakes and learn from them, without being branded as a failure? Do I have opportunities to tinker and make guesses?
  6. Practice. Do we learn something and then immediately move on to the next skill? Or can we engage in deep and sustained practice of those skills we need to learn?
  7. Choice. Am I just following the same path as every student? Or do I have real choices about what, when, and how I will learn and demonstrate my abilities?
  8. Authenticity. Is my work just a series of diddos? Or is the learning and work I do considered significant outside of school by experts, family, and employers?
    Does the community recognize the value of my work?
  9. Challenge. Is it just about completing assignments? Or do I feel appropriately challenged? Am I addressing high and meaningful standards of excellence?
  10. Application. Is my learning all theoretical? Or do I have opportunities to apply what I’m learning in real world settings?

Does your school incorporate student voice and expectations? If so, share your methods for student inclusion in the comments below.

We’re Hiring a Digital Marketing and PR Manager!

We’re Hiring a Digital Marketing and PR Manager!

Update: This position has been filled! Learn more about our new Digital Marketing and PR Manager, Trevór Collins, here.

Noble Impact is growing faster than ever, and we’re looking for a Digital Marketing and PR Manager to lead and grow our digital marketing and communications strategy. Located in downtown Little Rock, Noble Impact is an energetic, growing, and passionate team of education-obsessed change-makers looking to rewire education for purpose and relevance. And now, we’re looking for a marketing extraordinaire to help tell our story.

If you or someone you know gets pumped about managing marketing and communications for a growing education initiative, let’s talk!

The Position

As the Digital Marketing and PR Manager, you will be responsible for exponentially growing Noble Impact’s user base and digital footprint. You would be in charge of developing, implementing, managing, and analyzing Noble Impact’s digital marketing and public relations strategies, and you would also have the opportunity to assist with event management, community building, and product development efforts.

The ideal candidate would have a proven track record in creating and implementing online traffic and lead generation strategies through email, SEO/SEM, social media, and content marketing. You must be a self-starter that can excel in an entrepreneurial environment and aggressively grow our online presence.

Ideally, you would also be passionate about education, have an entrepreneurial spirit, and possess industry experience in marketing, public relations, and/or journalism. Like our teammates, you should also care a great deal about making an impact through education.

Parents, press, and onlookers gather for Arkansas High School Startup Weekend
Parents, press, and onlookers gather for Arkansas High School Startup Weekend student presentations.

In this role, you will:

  • Create, manage, measure, and report performance on all digital marketing (email, SEO/SEM, social media, and content marketing) campaigns and efforts
  • Manage content generation initiatives, such as our Community Blogging Program
  • Grow the subscriber base of the monthly email newsletter, while also reimagining what the newsletter could be
  • Garner local and national press for Noble Impact initiatives and programming
  • Collaborate with the product team on website and digital product projects
  • Assist with event planning and management

You’re our ideal teammate if you have:

  • Experience managing high-growth digital marketing initiatives
  • Proven excellence with landing press features within relevant media outlets
  • Strong communications/writing and math/analytical skills
  • Expertise in Google Analytics
  • Expertise in Excel (or Google Spreadsheets)
  • An engaged social media following across platforms (i.e. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, blogs, etc.)
  • Accurate understanding of performance and success metrics and knowledge of how to analyze and improve these key performance indicators

Noble Impact at SXSWedu
Noble Impact colleagues Chad and Erica attend SXSWedu. You could, too!
You’re a total dream candidate if you:

  • Are passionate about education
  • Geek out about design and data analysis
  • Stay up-to-date on marketing, PR, and technology trends
  • Consider yourself a storyteller
  • Enjoy working in small, entrepreneurial teams

You can expect:

  • A full-time position with a competitive salary
  • Health and dental insurance
  • Flexible working hours and remote working options
  • Opportunities to attend and speak at conferences
  • Passionate and impact-minded teammates
  • A collaborative, growth-focused, fast-moving culture
  • High-level connectivity within the education system

The person who fills the role of Marketing and PR Manager at Noble Impact will collaborate with VP of Product Erica Swallow, who currently manages all marketing efforts at Noble Impact. Erica is excited to hire a partner-in-change who can take Noble Impact’s marketing, communications, and story to the next level. If you’d like to get insight into the position, she’s your gal. Tweet or email her to connect.

Does this role sound perfect for you or someone you know? If so, we want to talk. Contact the Noble Impact team at Attach your resumé and/or LinkedIn profile, so we can get to know your professional experience, and tell us about yourself and your interest in the role! We’re in the process of scheduling phone interviews and are looking forward to bringing on a full-time teammate in June!

About Us

Noble Impact is an education non-profit that provides relevant and purpose-driven education to K-12 students through portfolio-driven and project-based learning experiences. Headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas, we currently serve 400+ students in elementary, middle, and high school.

Noble Impact at eStem Public Charter Schools
“Noble Impact is a factory for student stories.”
– Co-founder Chad Williamson
Come help us tell our students’ stories.
Non-tech MVPs: Why Every Tech Startup Should Start With One

Non-tech MVPs: Why Every Tech Startup Should Start With One

SXSW 2016 LogoThis post was inspired by a SXSW 2016 panel called, “No CTO, No Problem: Building A Non-technical MVP,” which featured Noble Impact VP of Product Erica Swallow, Fruitkit Co-founder Fernando Leon, Bain Capital Ventures investor Stephanie Weiner, and Contently Studio Director John Hazard.

Non-technical entrepreneurs often hold themselves back once they’ve got an idea, because they feel like recruiting tech talent to build a proof of concept is essential. Technical entrepreneurs, on the other hand, tend to exercise their strengths as builders early on, before validating their business ideas. In both cases, the outcome tends to be wasted time, either building a product that no one needs or not putting an idea through the validation wringer.

In a SXSW 2016 panel called “No CTO, No Problem: Building A Non-technical MVP,” three colleagues and I presented a case for going non-technical as a necessary step towards product validation. A Minimal Viable Product, or MVP, is a term coined by Eric Ries, defined as the “version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” What better way to minimize effort than to make an MVP that doesn’t require a single line of code?

Below are our panel’s key thoughts and recommended resources for would-be entrepreneurs who are looking to test an idea. Above all, we hope that this conversation around building a #NontechMVP will inspire potential startup founders to get started ASAP on tackling the problems they hope to solve!

The Argument For Starting Non-tech

Nontech MVP Sketchnote by William Donnell
UX designer William Donnell included our panel in his SXSW Sketchnotes!

Starting non-technical when you’re trying to build a tech company may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s actually a great way to validate a concept and save a lot of time before you get to coding. Many smart and eventually successful entrepreneurs, with or without technical backgrounds, have started with non-technical tests.

One entrepreneur that comes to mind is Aaron Patzer, founder of personal finance app Mint. In a talk he gave at Princeton’s Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education, Patzer explained how he grew to 1.5 million users and sold for $170 million in just two years. To validate the idea, Patzer started with a simple beta signup landing page, which asked people to sign up to be emailed when Mint launched. Mint also launched a personal finance blog, which provided users with relevant finance-related resources and promoted the beta launch page, as well. In the end, after 8-9 months, nearly 30,000 emails were collected for beta launch. Not a bad turnout, right? And mind you, Patzer holds degrees in electrical engineer and computer science from Duke and Princeton.

“Number one is to validate your idea. I actually didn’t write a line of code until I did about three or four months’ worth of thinking on Mint, which I think is counter to what a lot of people will suggest. A lot of people will say ‘Just get the product out there, just iterate very, very quickly, (and) just make a prototype.'”
— Aaron Patzer, founder of Mint

Everyone on our SXSW panel shared both success and failure stories when it came to validating quickly or beating around the bush with an idea. I, for example, had an idea for a peer-to-peer delivery platform and was able to see the technical product come to life after participating with a team of four at a 72-hour hackathon on a bus called StartupBus. We called it Deliverish, and some of us stayed on board for about 9 months after the hackathon, working on our free time, mocking out better front-end design concepts, interviewing potential customers, participating in more hackathons, building our own beta launch list, researching competitors, and trying to decide which beachhead market we wanted to address. After 9 months, we had a working prototype, but no customer transactions.

Had Deliverish started with a non-technical test, we might have actually gotten off the ground (though, in the end, it’s for the best that we didn’t… all the market research I did while at MIT Sloan actually helped show how competitive and oversaturated the last-mile delivery market is). A #NontechMVP could have come in the form of having people text the co-founders when they needed something delivered. From there, we could have deployed a contracted delivery person or conducted the delivery ourselves. We could have worked from there to automate aspects of the service that were the most annoying for the customer experience.

For any startup, it’s important to validate an idea as early as possible. Believe me, 9 months of building and researching — while valuable in its own right — is far too long to go before landing a single transaction.

Three Panelist Case Studies: PennLets, Fruitkit, and Noble Impact

fruitkit fruit delivery
Fruit subscription service Fruitkit started with a non-technical MVP to prove that its service had great enough demand.

On the SXSW panel, Stephanie Weiner, Fernando Leon, and I shared our own recent #NontechMVP stories, with PennLets, Fruitkit, and Noble Impact, respectively.

PennLets is a sublet listing service created by Weiner and some of her classmates while she was at the University of Pennsylvania. The team used a WordPress theme and got the service off the ground in one day. After 24 hours, the site had more than 500 active users (10% of the UPenn undergraduate community) — in a couple of months, the userbase had hit 2,000 students, says Weiner. In the end, the crew sold the site, as-is, to the university, and it still exists as the central subletting portal for UPenn students. To boot, Weiner and her colleagues are still listed on the site as the site creators. Weiner says the benefit to going non-technical is that the site was up in no-time, it didn’t crash (due to the support WordPress offers), and it validated the team’s concept in less than a day.

Fruitkit is another exceptional #NontechMVP example, in which a startup was able to turn a $100 investment into more than $100,000 in revenue in just over one year. Leon, a native of Colombia, and two friends founded fruit subscription service Fruitkit after living in cold, dark Finland, which lacks the year-round fruit market that South America boasts. The crew set up an out-of-the-box website, and after they unexpectedly received their first order (through a face-to-face conversation with a potential customer), they went into overdrive to figure out how they were going to fulfill the order. It turns out, they unknowingly had themselves a non-tech MVP, which consisted of sending an invoice, procuring the fruit through an importer, and delivering the fruit the following Monday (and every week thereafter). Leon collected feedback manually through customer calls, and gathered customer fruit preferences through a postcard that was included in each. Today, the startup has implemented automatic payments, tested delivery options (including an Uber partnership and its own delivery staff), and has relationships with three fruit importers and local farmers for summer (berries) and autumn (apples) procurements. (Check out Leon’s retrospective blog about how to create a non-tech MVP.)

Finally, there’s Noble Impact, where I serve as product lead. We are an education initiative with a mission to provide students everywhere a relevant and purpose-driven education. We began operations in Arkansas as a summer program, and then a K-12 course selection for public service and entrepreneurship education. To date, we’ve worked with more than 500 students at eStem Schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, building out a series of courses that engage students in project-based, portfolio-driven education that gets them engaged in their communities, solving problems that are connected to their interests. After more than two years of innovating on the Noble Impact curriculum, it became evident that the part of our classroom curriculum that was digital, was the part that would enable Noble Impact to scale outside of our first school.

Each student at Noble creates a digital portfolio that helps him or her define his or her personal narrative, values, interests, and related projects. These portfolios also drive student participation — once a student realizes that he or she can (and has already) contributed to society in some way, a spark for service is ignited. Our classroom facilitators originally built our 10-week portfolio curriculum using a site-building tool called Weebly. After nearly a year of testing and collecting student feedback on the experience, the team realized the pros and cons of an out-of-the-box solution, and as of this year, we’ve begun building a digital portfolio platform that’s customized for our classroom experience. Would we have started with our own platform, though, we would have wasted a lot of time building tech features that weren’t valued by our students. It’s only by testing on Weebly that we’ve been able to see what works and doesn’t in the classroom. Along the way, we’ve also used countless tools, many of which are listed below.

Getting Started With A Non-tech MVP

Nontech MVP Panel SXSW 2016 Speaking
SXSW Interactive 2016 speakers for the panel, “No CTO, No Problem: Building A Non-technical MVP”

So, how do you get started validating an idea with a non-technical solution? In short, you should aim to break down the process to the simplest means of testing. Leon recommends doing a role play of users. In his case, one of his co-founders played a customer in need of a fruit subscription, and Leon played the role of the Fruitkit product (or seller). “I’d like to order a basket of fruit,” the potential customer starts. “Alright, let’s get you signed up,” says Leon. “What’s your name and where would you like the fruit delivered?” And the role play goes on.

I like to point to a recent non-tech MVP I participated in as a user. The startup, CartDelivered, is based in Little Rock, Arkansas and is a grocery delivery service. Founder Joshua Ayres is a branding and logistics veteran, having worked at mainstay institutions including Kraft Foods, Cadbury, Unilever, and P&G. He wants to grow the grocery delivery market in the cities outside of the top 100 by population in the United States, unlike his competitors which focus their services in large, metropolitan regions. The CartDelivered beta test was quite simple; it aimed enable a user to:

  1. Make a grocery list
  2. Send the list to CartDelivered
  3. Be connected with a delivery person
  4. Receive their order within a pre-determined timeframe
  5. Pay for the order

Ayres was able to pull the beta test off using existing tools. He recommended the customer use Grocery IQ to make a grocery list and email it to, which could be done within the app. Then, he contacted his available delivery people, who he had pre-recruited to find someone who was available to make the delivery. After finding a match, he emailed the customer to convey that someone would arrive at a designated time. And lastly, once the order was final, he had the delivery person email him a copy of the receipt, which was used to send a PayPal invoice to the customer. All of this accomplished his goal, without him needing to spend anytime either learning to code or recruiting a technical teammate.

From our own experiences, here are some steps that were necessary for us, along with some non-tech tools that helped us achieve those goals:

  • Find and talk to potential/existing customers: Email, phone, Twitter, Craigslist
  • Building a “coming soon” page: LaunchRock, Unbounce, Kickofflabs, Quick MVP, Instapage
  • Collect feedback en masse: Google Forms, SurveyMonkey, Qualtrics, TypeForm
  • Design mockups: Napkins, paper, PowerPoint, Keynote, Moqups, Balsamiq
  • Build a basic product: WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, Cratejoy
  • Deliver contracts: Print/sign, Docusign
  • Develop a functioning app: Bubble
  • Communicate with our team: Slack, Whatsapp
  • Collect a payment: PayPal, Stripe, Venmo
  • A/B test options: Optimizely

If you’re an entrepreneur trying to validate an idea, our panelists urge you to break your idea down to the most basic test you can fathom. The sooner you can validate your idea, the sooner you’ll be off to actually building a technical product that people want.

For thoughts and ideas on how to strategize the simplest non-tech MVP, join the conversation on Twitter, via #NontechMVP.

SXSWedu Takeaways From An Education Newbie

SXSWedu Takeaways From An Education Newbie

Last year, I made a career switch to education, joining Noble Impact, because education has had a profound impact on me as a first-generation college student.

With my new role, I’ve taken on an immense amount of learning opportunities including attending dozens of educators summit and professional development events; hosting student programming with the team; and conducting research both at a sector level and within Noble Impact’s own initiatives.

Being a newbie in education, this year was my first time to attend SXSWedu, one of the most well-reputed and fastest-growing education conferences in the nation. Though I had attended its predecessor, SXSW, a series of Music, Film, and Interactive festivals, edu was a whole new beast for me. I have to say, I’m quite pleased with the experience. As I transition to SXSW, which starts the day after SXSWedu ends, I’ll be ruminating on the key takeaways SXSW’s education-obsessed cousin event invoked in me around diversity, professional development, and technology.

Educators Have Meaningful Discourse About Diversity

SXSW Finding the Medium Panel
Education equity was such a present topic at SXSWedu that it slightly derailed, but also enhanced (in the end), this panel about teacher voice.
All over the web and in the news, I’m continually appalled by the amount of racist, sexist, classist, and generally offensive and ignorant behavior that goes on in America. In the past months alone, multiple peaceful protesters were attacked at political rallies, Asian children were mocked on the Oscars’ stage, and Navajo beliefs were written into Harry Potter plots, much to the dismay of many Native American communities.

Just today in Little Rock, a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt was pulled from the gift shop at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, a museum about African American history and culture in Arkansas, reportedly because “being a state agency, the museum must represent all Arkansans.” Interesting, because the last time I checked, the mission of the center was to “collect, preserve, interpret and celebrate Arkansas’s African American history, culture, and community from 1870 to the present, and to inform and educate the public about African American’s achievements – especially in business, politics, and the arts.” The Mosaic does an exceptional job of that… when it’s not being censored, apparently.

All over the place, I hear people insisting that these injustices, based on skin tones, sexual preferences, economic background, don’t exist. At SXSWedu, though, it was a topic that came up in nearly every session I attended, whether it was the focus or not.

I have an inkling of a hypothesis that educators — who spend time every day in classroom, where a projected 51.5% of K-12 students are non-white, a majority for the first school year in American history — might be the group of people who are talking most about diversity and inclusion within their industry. I don’t have those stats, but my experience at SXSWedu at least was that it was a topic atop many people’s minds. It’s an ongoing theme I’ve seen at other conferences and events, too, which surprised me, because it sometimes feels like most of America is oblivious to the inequity that still exists in our country.

Teacher Training Can Be Awesome

Noble Impact at SXSWedu
Noble Impact co-founder Chad Williamson and I stormed SXSWedu to learn all the best that’s going on in education.
Only 29% of teachers are satisfied with current professional development (endearingly called PD, I’ve learned). That’s a stat I picked up from a SXSWedu session focused on redesigning teacher PD.

We often talk a lot about redesigning the student experience: Flipping the classroom, personalizing curriculum, implementing project-based learning. But what about teachers? They’re humans, too! And sitting in a conference hall for 8 hours straight, listening to lectures, is certainly not anyone’s idea of fun.

SXSWedu itself proved to me that ongoing teacher PD can be fun and engaging. This is one of only a few teacher training events I’ve attended in the past year, where I’ve legitimately had fun. There were all types of sessions — panels, team-based workshops, 15-minute talks, solution-driven summits. The only thing I’d add is more students… we talk about student voice, but there was a major lack of it, which is chronic across all PD and educator’s events. If we’re serving students, let’s have them there to contribute thoughts and ideas!

This summer, I should note, Noble Impact is launching its own inaugural educator’s professional development summit, and we hope to build it around the things we believe to be important in the classroom… Stay tuned for more! And in the meantime, try to spice up any PD you go to by suggesting some SXSWedu-style engagement!

Technology Is A Means, Not An End

SXSWedu YouTube's Top Teachers
Even a panel about teachers on YouTube wasn’t about technology in the end!
Lastly, but not least, I was pleasantly surprised that though SXSW-organized events are focused on innovation, most of the conversation at SXSWedu was not explicitly about technology. The two — innovation and technology — are often lumped together. But not at SXSWedu.

Even at panels in which I expected the focus to be around the wonders of technology and the Internet, such as the one about top educators on YouTube, the session content was focused on solving educational problems.

In the technology and media sectors, where I hail from, we often get caught up with the latest technologies for technology’s sake: “Oh my gosh, I can get notifications on my wrist with this watch! Holy moly, I can send a message and it disappears after reading? YAS. Wait, I can put on these goggles and feel like I’m across the world? Neat!” Ok, they’re all fun ideas, but are we utilizing them to solve problems? Or just dilly-dally our lives away?

I didn’t see a sense of technology ogling much at SXSWedu, except maybe among some of the technology providers. Educators, though, get straight to the point: How am I going to use this in my classroom? How does it enhance my students’ experiences? What are the key educational outcomes? Now, that’s some pragmatism I can get behind.

Were You At SXSWedu?

What about you? Did you attend SXSWedu 2016? If so, tweet us your thoughts on what you found interesting: @ericaswallow and @nobleimpact. Until next year!

Header image courtesy of official SXSW photographer Jessy Ann Huff. All other photos by Noble Impact.

The First-Generation Struggle: A Letter From My 22-Year-Old Self

The First-Generation Struggle: A Letter From My 22-Year-Old Self

In 2008, I wrote a letter about my financial aid experience in college, at the request of my college’s content department. I re-discovered it today and am reminded we still have a long way to go until everyone, regardless of their personal backgrounds, has equitable access to education. But I am hopeful, and I hope this letter spreads that optimism.

As a first-generation college student (first in my family to attend college) and Pell Grant recipient (which is awarded to students from low-income families), I had always dreamed that education would change my path, but reflecting upon my life so far, it is almost surreal how much education has made a difference in my life.

The below email was sent on September 18, 2008 to Dana Rasso, who was a content writer for NYU at the time and in charge of the newsletter to parents of prospective students (among other publications) in which my story eventually appeared. I was 22 years old and had made it through the toughest times in college, including a semester when I nearly dropped out due to financial constraints. I am forever grateful for programs like the Pell Grant and the many scholarships and loans that got me through college. I hope the following words can provide hope for students — like 22-year-old me — who scrape by every day, encouraged by a vision of a better life.

Hey Dana,

I’d love to help out with [sharing my financial aid story], since financial aid was my biggest concern in coming to NYU. I only applied to NYU, because I felt in some way that it was the place for me… but my mother makes less that $14,000 a year, and I didn’t think we’d be able to afford it. I only had a few hundred dollars saved for college, since I worked in a pizza shop, but had to pay for my car insurance and gasoline to get to school. It was hard, but I managed. I’m going to be very blunt, though, it’s difficult. Here’s my commentary (it’s a little long, but I just got really passionate about it! If you want to cut it down, feel free.):

NYU was my dream school, but there was only one problem in my way after I decided to only apply to NYU: Financial aid. My mother is a single parent, earning an annual wage well under the poverty line. Most recently, she has undergone multiple surgeries, making it impossible for her to work. She now has no income and has lost a lot of our belongings as a result. In fact, I just found out a few weeks ago that all of my personal belongings were sold in an auction for $15, due to a foreclosure on our storage unit. Life at NYU has been heartbreaking, as I’ve watched my family fall apart from a distance. Financial aid is crucial for my enrollment at NYU.

Luckily, I am within the small percentage of students who get a large amount of scholarships. Above and beyond that, I have multiple loans, including subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans, Federal Perkins loans, and an NYU Weiss Memorial Loan. I also use my credit cards to pay for my remaining bill balances on most semester bills. Lastly, I receive Federal Work Study, which enables me to work 20 hours a week at an NYU job, earning money, which usually goes to food, my credit card bills, or the occasional splurge. It’s difficult going to a school where everyone seems to have a bank accounting that’s exploding at the seams, especially when my bank account is usually on the verge of hitting $0 most of the time. (Example: This week my bank account is at $4. It has been one big spaghetti marathon!) But every now and then, I treat myself to a night out, a fancy dinner, or some great shoes. I figure that everyone has to live a little bit.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it for you — if your family is in the situation that my family is in, it’s going to be tough throughout the next four years. Each year, after applying for the FAFSA you will be tearing out your hair wondering what the damage to your credit will be this time. The Financial Aid Office has a great staff, though, that will try their best to work with you. The biggest piece of advice that I have for you — perseverance. Keep calling, keep asking, keep applying. There are a ton of scholarships out there. Within a few years, you’re going to be tired of applying for scholarships, but keep doing it. Education is the most important asset a person can have. Do not miss the opportunity to have a great education at NYU, just because your family is not financially stable. Education is an investment in the future. I had a dream and I was not going to let it go. Hopefully when I graduate and get my first job, I will be making enough money to get my loans and credit card bills paid off within the first few years. Then, I hope to give back to NYU and the institutions that made my education possible. I hope that you, your student, and your family will have the spirit to challenge the system and dream your wildest dreams. This is a very sensitive subject for me, but I am more than happy to share my insight with anyone who is worried about financial aid at NYU. Please feel free to contact me with any further questions at [email].

Erica Swallow
NYU Stern Class of 2009

This is just one snapshot in my college experience, but it hit a nerve for me. Reading it, I can see myself back in my dorm room, typing away at my desk, loving the mind-expanding experience of rigorous, thought-provoking, life-changing academic discourse — an experience I had rarely had growing up in Arkansas. While meanwhile, I’m getting calls from home that my family is in utter disarray. That things are going wrong left and right. That people I love very dearly are falling into the tragic situations that statistics said they would, and that I should. Unemployment, addiction, homelessness, violence, abandonment, illness.

This week has been a time of reflection, and I just happened upon this letter, because I had forgotten what I knew about the Pell Grant back in my days at NYU. I knew I had received it, but that was about it. This week, I attended SXSWedu, an Austin-based education conference, for the first time. Education equity was a topic that came up many times, even in talks in which it was not the focus. It is, of course, a highly important topic. Not everyone in America receives the same education and has the same access to opportunity. College graduation rates for Pell Grant recipients was a topic that hit my radar randomly as I was scanning the conference schedule. There is, on average, a 5.7% graduation rate gap within institutions between Pell recipients and all students, and a 14% gap nationally, I learned. The increased national average is due to larger gaps at institutions where graduation rates are low overall for all students (regardless of Pell status) — these are the institutions, sadly, where Pell Grant recipients are more likely to attend. At NYU, the gap is smaller than average, but still present, at a 4.5 percentage point difference. That is, 83.3% of all student graduate after 6 years, and 78.8% of Pell grant recipients graduate in the same time frame.

It’s been nearly 7 years since I graduated from NYU, but it wasn’t until today that I realized how important it is for students like me — graduated or not — to bond together. I wish I knew more Pell Grant recipients, more people who shared a difficult financial path through school. It turns out that nearly 20% of undergraduate students at NYU in 2013 were Pell Grant recipients. I wish I had known that when I was in college. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt so alone.

I felt that same isolation in graduate school, which I completed last year. I finally had the courage, though, to share my story in a public, student-led storytelling forum. I spoke about how those labels — low-income and at-risk — can weigh on a person, and how they had for me since I was a child.

Nationally, I wasn’t alone either. About 1/3 of students are first-generation college students and just over 1/3 of students receive Pell Grants. But who wants to fly the “hey, everyone! I’m poor!” flag when they’re trying to make friends and fit in? There is a social stigma that keeps people from sharing these parts of their lives.

Today, more than just sharing my story, I feel it’s necessary that I wear my past proudly, that I embrace that part of my journey. Hopefully my story will resonate with students who may be feeling like college is a struggle that wasn’t meant for them. Today, 7 years later, I haven’t paid off my loans yet, as 22-year-old me thought might have happened by now. Instead, I have taken jobs that appeal to my passions and contribute positively to the world, and I have been able to give back along the way. I still hope, though, that one day my work will scale well beyond my reach and my life.

The education I’ve received, that so many have sacrificed their time and resources for, is the most pivotal achievement I will ever provide to my family and the world. Without it, nothing I have achieved would be possible. I am completely changed because I had the opportunity to learn. I hope that one day we will live in a world in which everyone who wishes to study will have the opportunity to do so. Through education, we can change the world.

Header image courtesy of New York University, circa 2008

Dream Big: Notes From Visiting A Junior Achievement Competition

Dream Big: Notes From Visiting A Junior Achievement Competition

When I get the chance to speak with Arkansan high school students, my first goal is to impart a sense of “I can do anything!” through the sharing of my personal story of growing up in poverty in Arkansas to finding my calling in life and being able to support myself and others around me. If I can leave a room and have empowered at least one student to reframe his or her story and understanding of what the future could hold, I won’t be able to contain my smile for the rest of the day.

Erica Swallow speaks at Junior Achievement Youth Business Competition
Noble Impact VP of Product Erica Swallow speaks at the competition.
I was honored, then, to give the keynote presentation at the AT&T Youth Business Challenge, hosted by Junior Achievement of Arkansas, a non-profit organization that has brought financial literacy, career readiness, and entrepreneurship curriculum to students in Arkansas since 1987 — where I got to experience just that… A handful of students thanking me in person afterwards for sharing my story. [Thank you to Junior Achievement of Arkansas board member Mitch Bettis for the invitation to speak — one of my passions is working with driven, young leaders.]

Speaking with students is just as meaningful and educational for me as it is for the students, though. I arrived early, so that I could see the business competition in action. It consists of a multi-quarter business simulation, in which students work in teams to analyze market trends and set business budgets accordingly, for each quarter. At the front of the room, a couple of Junior Achievement staffers run the simulation, while students buzz away energetically at their team stations. Like in the “real world,” students aren’t notified of how many quarters their businesses will “run” — it’s simply an ongoing cycle that they must plan as they go, feeding on market performance.

Though the simulation software was old-school, 64-bit design, the learnings behind what the students were doing were only lessons I learned in college. Students were asked to look at past market performance — including units of their product sold, profits achieved, and total market share achieved — to adjust marketing dollars, number of units produced, and pricing, among other details.

As I’ve been from time to time since moving back to Arkansas six months ago (after a decade on the East Coast working and attaining two degrees in business management), I was impressed with the education and performance of some of Arkansas’s students. Had someone thrown me into a simulation like the one presented at Junior Achievement when I was in high school, I’m not confident I would have grasped the concept immediately. It is thanks to the resources that have been presented to or available to these students that they have the opportunity to attempt and excel at such exercises — exercises that help build an analytical mindset.

What I also enjoyed seeing was that attendees included high school teams from all backgrounds, including Benton High School, eStem High School, McClellan High School, Maumelle High School, Conway High School, Little Rock Christian, the Boys & Girls Club of Whetstone, Hall High School, Bauxite High School, and Second Baptist Church, among others. While many of the schools boast funding and special interest in economics and business education, some of the representative schools don’t have as many resources, though they likely have educators who are determined to give their students just as much access to opportunity.

2004 FBLA State Conference
The 2004 FBLA State Conference made my scrapbook.
These are the types of early opportunities that made me who I am today. Though I hadn’t heard of Junior Achievement while in high school, a very similar experience — participating in the Future Business Leaders of America state competition — was a perspective-altering experience for me. A few things happened. I:

  • Traveled to our state’s capital for the first time ever
  • Was given an opportunity to showcase my talent in impromptu speaking
  • Witnessed other driven students excel at their work
  • Was coached and given feedback by our FBLA advisor, and
  • Bonded with my classmates who cared about their futures, too.

Perusing through the handful of scrapbooks I made while in high school, it’s easy to see that the moments that made a huge impact on me all shared the above traits. Other meaningful entries in my scrapbook include competing in the first national electric vehicle competition with my high school team in Atlanta, Georgia; marching in a parade with my high school band at Disney World in Orlando, FL; and attending Universal Dance Association dance camp with my high school dance team in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

The Junior Achievement business competition I attended this month brought back those memories for me. For some students, I learned, it was the first time they had visited their state capital. For others, it was the first time they had worn business attire — in one case, a club advisor had helped the school’s team shop for proper attire.

These are the events and moments in Arkansas that mean a lot to me. I hope we can do more of this moving forward.

And on dreaming big… I took one sticky note with me to the podium to remind myself of the key points I wanted to hit in my keynote speech, as well as in the questions and answers session. I’ll share those four points with you, as well as a few sentences about each:

  1. Dream big. As a senior in high school, my high school counselor advised me not to attend my dream school, New York University, because my “family couldn’t afford it.” Little did she know, I would be supporting myself, and I wasn’t letting anything get in the way of me and my dreams.
  2. Take initiative. When I got to NYU, I needed to earn money to pay for school. I immediately noticed these flyers that said I could be a part of consumer behavior studies; after the first one, I was so intrigued that I contacted the professor who was running the experiment to learn more about the study. He was so impressed with my curiosity that he offered me an internship. I was the first freshman to ever work for him; his other interns were graduate students. Initiative pays off.
  3. Know your worth. Coming from Arkansas, where I had worked at Mazzio’s Pizza for three years prior to college, I had understood that my “worth” was about $5.15 per hour, the then minimum hourly wage I was earning. New York was a whole different ball field, though. I nearly tripled my wage with that move. And had I not had a mentor who explained salary negotiation to me right out of college, I would have cheated myself out of about 50% of my “worth” at my first full-time job. Research and knowledge are key. Don’t fall in the trap I did for a year out of school! That’s a lot of potential earnings I could have put towards my student loans!
  4. Never settle. Lastly, we are all capable of anything we put our minds to — it’s not always a lone endeavor, remember! Early in my career, I accepted a few roles that were definitely not a fit for me, all for the wrong reasons. I settled, because I thought it’d lead to something I’d like more. I settled, because I thought I’d be able to morph the role to better suit me once I got there. I settled, because the team really wanted me. Settling only leads to feeling unsettled. When you feel like you’re about to settle, keep moving forward and ask yourself, “What is it that I really want?” Find the answer, and do that!

In a nutshell, the above is what I hoped to convey to the Junior Achievement competition teams when I took the stage. One indication that I made an impact was a particularly thoughtful question from a student in the audience named Afraz, “What gave you the drive to become an entrepreneur?” For one, I answered, it was being a first-generation college student, knowing that by going to college, I would change the history of my family. Secondly, though — and I’m only just now reflecting on this — it was the opportunities that were provided to me that enabled me to see that I could be more than what was expected of me, and that I could attain any future I imagined for myself.

I hope that my talk was inspiring for students — that they, too, realize they can achieve their biggest dreams in this lifetime. I’m certainly still reaching for mine!

If you’d like to get a better look at what the day at Junior Achievement was like, check out Junior Achievement of Arkansas’s “AT&T Youth Business Challenge” Facebook photo album.

How High Schoolers Are Using Lean Startup

How High Schoolers Are Using Lean Startup

Lean Startup Conference LogoThis video was produced by the Lean Startup Conference, where Noble Impact VP of Product Erica Swallow gave an IGNITE talk about Lean Startup in the high school ecosystem. Learn more about Lean Startup in the high school setting in the blog post she penned leading up to the speech.

High schools across the nation are implementing Lean Startup methodology in entrepreneurship, business, and marketing courses. Erica Swallow, VP of Product at education non-profit Noble Impact, at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference, shared the story of how her team is empowering students to get out of the building and solve the problems they see in their communities. See the video recording of her five-minute, lightning-style IGNITE talk below! (IGNITE talks, by the way, are five minutes total, with 20 slides, 15 seconds each. Phew!)

Learn more about how Noble Impact uses Lean Startup in the classroom in Erica’s more extensive blog post.