Solutions to Scale

Penn’s David Ongchoco, the founder of YouthHack, an organization that exposes young people in developing countries to tech opportunities, is paying forward the altruistic entrepreneurship that helped him.

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Penn’s David Ongchoco, the founder of YouthHack, an organization that exposes young people in developing countries to tech opportunities, is paying forward the altruistic entrepreneurship that helped him.

Ongchoco, a student at Penn, is committed to bringing tech opportunities to youth in developing countries (Photography by Saakshi Goel, UC Berkeley)

When David Ongchoco got a chance to visit the U.S. for college, he wasted no time in getting involved with the start-up scene in order to fan his passion for using tech to solve problems at scale. After a seminal, two-week tour of several prestigious colleges, Ongchoco was inspired to channel some of the philosophies he had encountered into creating his own start-up, called YouthHack, with the goal of getting students in developing countries involved in technology and entrepreneurship.

The once-small group has now hosted events in more than eight countries and is working to establish itself as a permanent institution for promoting computer education internationally. Ongchoco is now approaching his senior year at the University of Pennsylvania and is double majoring in Cognitive Science and Computer Science. I got the opportunity to speak with him about his start-up, and what he has planned next.

Kelly Keglovits: How did you first become interested in computer science?

David Ongchoco: I first sparked my interest through reading about start-ups and tech companies—I remember watching “The Social Network” and reading the book about Facebook. Then, I got accepted to college here in the U.S. and was choosing between Penn and Berkeley. I got the chance to visit San Francisco for a week, and I attended a bunch of start-up and technology events, and I came across all these different entrepreneurs and founders.

I remember attending a talk by the founder of Khan Academy, where he discussed being able to use technology to solve problems at scale, and how anybody could gain access to Khan Academy and learn better and faster. The idea of using tech to solve problems was fascinating for me, and that’s when I started reading more and trying to learn how could I build my own website and get started.

Ongchoco attributes much of his inspiration for YouthHack to computer science forums (Photography by Saakshi Goel, UC Berkeley)

KK: So after you returned from this trip, that’s when you founded YouthHack?

DO: It was the summer right before my freshman year of college when we started YouthHack. I had some time from June to August, and I wanted to work on something after listening to all those inspiring speakers in Silicon Valley.

KK: And where did your idea for YouthHack come from?

DO: The idea came from the different start-up events I attended in the U.S. during the two-week period I visited Penn and Berkeley. I attended Penn’s business plan competition and I also read about PennApps, which is one of the largest hackathons in the U.S. I found the idea of a weekend where students go and come up with ideas and try to build things a really cool concept. At the time no one was really doing that in the Philippines, and I thought it was a huge opportunity to inspire students.

KK: Could you talk a little more about how YouthHack works?

DO: YouthHack is a nonprofit organization that aims to help students learn more about start-up technology and entrepreneurship, which we do through various events and programs. We have start-up weekends, which are two-day events where students come up with ideas and prototype pitches. We also have a code weekend, where students can learn how to code or use their coding skills to build something overnight.

KK: And who all has helped you with this?

DO: Back in the early days, it was just me and a bunch of high school friends. We had all just graduated from high school and had a long summer to fill. Now our team has grown to over two hundred volunteers around the world. A lot of them are friends I’ve met through Penn and friends who participated in our earlier events.

Ongchoco believes that while talent is universal, opportunity is not (Photography by Saakshi Goel, UC Berkeley)

KK: What sort of impact has YouthHack made on your life?

DO: It’s definitely been my life for the past three years. I have learned a lot from all the people I’ve gotten the chance to work with. I’ve also learned how to work with different types of people. Beyond that, I think the whole thing shows that you are never too young to start something big. Yes, it takes a lot of people and it doesn’t happen overnight, but when I look back at the past three years, it’s pretty crazy to see how much we have done.

KK: Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

DO: I’ve been exploring a new start-up idea that I want to work on in the summer and during senior year. It’s an idea in the outsourcing space, and my ultimate goal with all of this is to really find a way to connect the United States to developing countries like the Philippines. I am a strong believer in the saying that talent is universal but opportunity is not, so I’ve been thinking of ways I could leverage my experience growing up in the Philippines but going to the U.S. for college to make a real impact.

If you’re interested in getting involved with YouthHack, starting your own chapter or getting advice on a start-up idea you’re working on, feel free to email David at david@youthhack.net.

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