■ By Kyle Selby / Reporter
Local 16-year-old entrepreneur Isabella Martinez has already impressed many with Net4Seniors, an organization she founded when she was just 15, which helps senior citizens utilize technology. Now however, she is taking her next entrepreneurial step before she enters her final year of high school.
On June 12, she flew solo to Boston, Massachusetts for the MIT Launch Summer Program; a four-week program (June 12-July 8) that brings together high school entrepreneurs from all over the world to grow their entrepreneurial skills and mindset, while also launching real startups.
“It’s not a competition,” explained Martinez. “But it’s going to be in front of a lot of mentors, staff, and even possible investors for the businesses that we make at MIT.”
The students will be required to cultivate their own companies or businesses in teams consisting of “designers,” “hackers,” and “hustlers,” using rigorous course materials and taking action, being supported to pilot and prototype their startups by a team of mentors and many resources at MIT. They will then present their developments at the end of the four weeks to be judged.
“In the beginning it’s hypothetical, but then you have to go and test it out, and see if it actually works,” she said. “And then at the end of the four weeks, we have to see if this business is feasible.”
Martinez will be grouped with three others young teen entrepreneurs like herself, and the four of them will have to come up with five ideas. Martinez plans to use Net4Seniors as one of those, because it has been so successful.
Martinez first applied to the program her freshman year of high school. She was almost immediately turned down, which came as no surprise, due to her inexperience of the entrepreneurial world at the time. Net4Seniors was just taking off around the time she applied her sophomore year, but was again rejected. Little did Martinez know, her luck was about to turn around after Net4Seniors gained its footing.
“This year, I got the phone call, and I actually made it this time!” exclaimed Martinez. Initially, Martinez was in no mood to be woken at 4 a.m. when she and her mother got the phone call, but when she heard the good news, her attitude immediately shifted. “We were so excited about it. We were ecstatic!”
The acceptance letter states: “You were identified as one of the most talented and promising students in Launch’s most competitive applicant pool ever.”
I’m most excited about meeting the different people around the world. I’m going to be able to see their different perspectives, and all walks of life. It feels like I’m already going to college.”
– Isabella Martinez
Along with an information packet, Martinez was given assignments designed to determine her skill set, exercises to test her business savvy, and others to simply map out her ideas.
Martinez admits that entrepreneurship has not always been a part of the plan. When she was in middle school, she had aspirations of becoming a marine biologist.
“For some reason I was so attracted to the sea,” explained Martinez, who just got her SCUBA certification last year. “I really loved the sea, but I wanted to see what other things I could do with my life.”
Not long after, Isabella founded Net4Seniors, where she learned a newfound appreciation for business and entrepreneurship. Just last year, she was invited to the TED Talks event TEDxTemecula, where she spoke before a crowd about her experiences as a young entrepreneur.
“TEDx Temecula was definitely nerve-wracking,” described Martinez. “It was about two to three hundred people, and right before, I was actually very nervous. “ Martinez tried to focus on her breathing, and relax, but once she got on stage, she felt right at home. “I can’t even explain it,” she continued. “It just felt natural; I didn’t even feel nervous at that point. When I was up there, I felt like I wanted to stay up there longer.”
Martinez had previously been involved with her school’s robotics club, which taught her how to speak before crowds at community outreach events and competitions.
“I’m most excited about meeting the different people around the world. I’m going to be able to see their different perspectives, and all walks of life. It feels like I’m already going to college.”
It should also be noted that this is the most difficult year to get into the program, which only had a 12 percent admission rate! 29 states and 30 countries have offered their best and brightest teens to participate. Martinez hopes she’s among good company.
“I don’t know what kind of ideas are going to come out of it,” she said. “But whichever one I want to get into, it has to give back to the community. I don’t care which one it is. That’s always been my focus.”
Martinez has taken a break from Net4Seniors for the summer, but when she comes back from MIT, she plans to reapply to the Whatever It Takes program (WIT), a social entrepreneurial program she participated in during her sophomore year. WIT is a more self-focused, year-long program, she says. She plans on handing over her responsibilities at Net4Seniors to her little brother when he gets to high school.
Martinez will remain in the program until July 8. Good luck Isabella!