Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Notes on Forbes Magazine “30 Under 30” Summit (Boston, 16 – 18 October, 2016)

Notes on Forbes Magazine “30 Under 30” Summit (Boston, 16 – 18 October, 2016)
(If you had read the introduction to this post on my campaign site:, just scroll down to asterisks line ********** below)
These three days have been very insightful for me.
I am sure that later in time I will have more coherent picture of what had happened. In this update I just want to offer my brief, mostly chronological than logical, illustration of the Summit.
As you know, I am not really an entrepreneur – not yet. But I will. According to Jon Nastor (the author of “Hack the Entrepreneur) “We aren’t born entrepreneurs, we become them”.
When I was a student, I saw myself writing papers on condensed matter physics, publishing books and giving conference talks. Nowadays I am trying to transfer to people the feeling of urgency and my view on the deepness of the issues in a science of education (which does not exists yet:
I do have an entrepreneurial gene, though. If I hadn’t, I would not quit my rising career back in Russia 14 years ago, and would not move to a different country with only $300.00 in my pocket, $5000.00 in debt, with no professional network, and no ability to speak or understand English. And look at me know – teaching physics to college students, and publishing papers on education!
After overcoming the language barrier, reestablishing myself as an educator, it seems only logical for me to finally move into the next new world – entrepreneurship. In theory, I know a lot about it (I read now!), but knowing something how to do, and doing it – makes a big difference (like in physics)! And trust me on this: I know what to do and I am doing it.
As you may know, I sent my application ( being perfectly aware that it will not be accepted (too old – at the minimum). I did not hide my age (, but sent it anyway. The result was an invitation to the Summit (for people who had to buy the access it cost about $500 or more). I signed up for the “Impact” section. The section had many passionate and impressive people ( or upload a pfd file from, also check my Instagram page
During presentations and panel discussions I kept my notes, and here I want to summarize some of the thoughts. You may find some of the thoughts obvious or naïve, but I find them uplifting, or informative, or resonating with my own views.
GoFundMe limits the size of an update, so I posted the full version of the notes on my blog (here!);
I also made a short video:

If you want to reach investors, be passionate, not logical, at least at the beginning. Investors do want to give for a good cause, but they need to feel what you feel about your project and the goal you want to achieve. Investors do fund mission driven companies (i.e. ones which make money AND improve a society). Try to make investors to feel compassion to your cause and to you (BTW: this part of a conversation is usually problematic for me, because I am a very logical person, and do not have much of experience with appealing to somebody’s feelings; in fact, I think appealing to feelings might make more harm than good – a.k.a. Donald Trump).
An entrepreneur needs a community of people who have similar views on the social issues. A path often starts from a discussion of what is wrong with the world and what to do about it. One needs a team of people who share the vision.
An entrepreneur needs to be ready to describe: What is the social issue one wants to solve? What can be done to lessen the issue? Who has to be involved, and what will they do? How to find people with the right skills? What media or legislative support is needed? In the end, what social value will be created or strengthen?
One of the hardest things to do is to convince other people that the goal is achievable, that the project is doable. If the current situation has been around for a long time, if it became a part of the realty, a culture, a norm, people do not believe it can be changed. What helps is igniting peoples’ imagination and picture the situation when the issue is resolved to contrast it with the current situation.
No matter how hard it can be to find people who can believe in you, “if you need to walk the walk you have to start walking”. Do not wait until your plans will be 100 % clear to you, start acting, “launch and iterate”. It takes time to achieve the critical mass of supporters and collaborators. Corrections can be done on the way.
One panel had a very vibrant discussion about sexism in general and in business in particular. It is very difficult to change the perception of women which had been a part of a culture for centuries. I thought that in the business of startups there is also a culture of ageism – if you are already older than 30 no venture capitalist will talk to you. Talking about changes in education we run into a similar problem: i.e. for centuries education has been seen as arts and crafts and anybody can do it. This perception still dominates in culture, but it is wrong (everybody can cook, but not everyone can be a chef – same with education, everybody can talk and tell what to do, but not everyone can be a good teacher).
In medicine collecting and storing reliable data is still a problem. But even bigger problem is sharing the data with a patient. To make a transition from collecting data to sharing data many different parties have to agree on common protocols - i.e. common language to describe events and processes, common list of measurable parameters, common set of values for the parameters, common procedures for measuring parameters – this is EXACTLY what makes any science to be a science, hence, to make a transition from collecting data to sharing data people active in the field have to start developing a science of the field (plus other issues have to resolved, like legal status of data, policies). A very similar situation is true for education (science of education does not yet exist).
An investor assesses a project via: good cause v. achievable cause; scope of the problem v. scope of proposed solution; local solution v. scalable solution.
For every education-related project an investor should know: how does the proposed solution affect teachers (the issues of a shortage of high quality teachers; is the solution helps teachers to grow professionally or “replaces” teachers with new tools; how is this project different from just giving to school students missing resources like textbooks – when I was listening to judges who would select the winner of the Forbes 1 million contest I thought that even some investors may not know what exactly should they ask about an education-related project).
For every project an investor should know: how does the proposed solution helps to increase social mobility of students (people of a certain group)?
While listening to the discussions on the stage, I formulated some questions to which I did not hear an answer.
What is the difference between making an impact via investments, and making an impact via charitable donations?
The most of the impact projects aim at solving a specific social issue (e.g. absences of access to learning computer coding, absence of access to teaching materials like textbooks or supplemental texts, absence of access to high quality teaching mathematics, absence of shoes, or food), and they are limited by a local area (a district, a city). These projects solve social problems here and now. How to present a project which aims at making a systemic change on a large scale and in a relatively distant future (for example, mine)?
One thing left me disappointed. Organizers had managed to build a glass wall between the people on the stage and the audience. There were no open microphones for questions, not even an option to pass a note. It was literally staged like a theatrical play with a very expensive tickets (not as expensive as the “Hamilton”, though). I saw and heard many people, and I would really like to meet some them (for example, see below my tweet to Ms. Linda Pizzuti Henry).
At the very end of the event I had an interesting encounter. When I went back to the Village (a.k.a. City Hall Plaza) I met a lady from Forbes, one of the organizers. It happened in the Idea tent, where entrepreneurs were pitching their ideas to the crowd. I asked the lady how could I get to the stage to pitch my idea? When she realized that I was older than the title of the Summit, she started looking for something in her bag, then she fished out her phone and started talking (I didn’t hear the phone ringing, but it could have been in a vibrate mode), then she turned around and started waving her hand (I did not see anyone waving back), then she turned to a guy on her side and started walking around him until she finally went away saying to my nothing, even not looking at me at all. To this moment I do not know if she really got a call and need to see someone, or she just faked it to avoid talking to me.
Respectfully yours,
Dr. Valentin Voroshilov
My tweet to Ms. Linda Pizzuti Henry

Dear Ms. Pizzuti Henry,

Before time erased our memory and the feelings brought by the Summit are still fresh, I would like to invite you to become a part of a story (which may become a history).

Yesterday during the discussion you may have seen me in a third row across of you (I was one of the few old people in the audience).
You would need no more than 15 minutes to make your mind about me and my cause.
All it takes is (in the given order):
3-minute watching:
6-minute watching:
You and the Globe could be documenting the history of the rise (or not) of a profoundly new approach to a science of education.
Respectfully yours,
Dr. Valentin Voroshilov
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