Using COVID-19 to Create Education Opportunities
While many youth programs went into the summer waiting for quarantine restrictions to be lifted and get back to business as normal, Drone Forward took another approach: Completely relinquish any in-person programming plans and fully dedicate its efforts to providing children with quality online education programming until a vaccine becomes available.
On July 10th of 2020, eleven students, ages ten to fifteen, logged on to a Zoom conference call with the CEO of robotics startup Light Line to discuss their objectives as consultant teams over the coming weeks. Some of the students jumped on the opportunity to mirror the behavior they’d seen their parents display during online quarantine meetings by sitting up straight and dressing up for the “business call,” while others showed up having to endure their first under-dressed and unprepared professional experience.
Light Line is the first business to work with Drone Forward Incorporated (DFI) on an online
version of their signature Youth Consulting Program. Light Line presented an interesting and pertinent business problem to the students: The newly minted consultants would be working on completing a robust marketing analysis for Light Line concerning the opportunity to enter the COVID-19 disinfection robot market with a moderately priced product. Light Line had been pondering the opportunity because the core components of their autonomous package delivery robot served as an excellent platform for disinfecting apparatus such as ultraviolet lights. Light Line was most interested in the students’ perspectives because the target market for their disinfection robot would be schools.
The business of creating products to make the world safer during COVID-19 is more complex than most business problems for many reasons and observing the students navigate through the Pandora's box of COVID related issues made something obvious: children make clearer and more concise moral and ethical business decisions because human life is their first consideration. In connection, all students in the Youth Consulting Program were so concerned with the value of human life and health that simply creating a robot that effectively disinfected schools wasn’t enough, it was equally important that custodians and janitors who operated the robot were left unaffected by its operation.
Throughout the project, students utilized marketing frameworks taught in top-tier graduate level business schools and their final projects reflected their ability to accurately implement these tools. After the students’ final presentations, Light Line CEO Brett Wagner said, “The skills and high-level critical thinking demonstrated by the kids during their presentations mirrored graduate-level work. I am confident that the students grasped business concepts in a way that will allow them to add real value to ventures they may be part of in the future. In fact, I am confident that after going through the consulting program, they could offer real and tangible value now.”
Beyond marketing, the students also got to practice their research and development skills by making prototypes of the COVID-19 disinfection robots they thought Light Line should build. All of these prototypes displayed immense understanding of how a robot would need to
operate within a school setting to properly disinfect the multitude of surfaces in classrooms, halls, gymnasiums, and cafeterias. What was most impressive was a specific modification to the robot skin that Tampa, Florida student Josh made, which was to coat the robot in dry erase board material so that kids could draw on the robot and interact with it.
What surprised Light Line leadership was recognizing that many of the students' suggestions and recommendations for the robot mirrored ideas made by the firm’s top engineers. For example, one consulting team came up with the idea to sell attachments for the robot to make it more capable while increasing revenues. After the presentation, CEO Brett Wagner asked Josh, who’d made prototypes of the attachments, how he would create a robust mating system for the attachments; Josh answered by describing a spring loaded mechanism that was beyond layman comprehension. Brett later said that the same design principles for the attachments Josh had were what Light Line’s top engineer was currently working on.
What is so important about multifaceted education programs like DFI’s Youth Consulting Program is that students are introduced to a variety of potential career paths. While students got to experience what a business consultant does, they also experienced marketing, research and development, and even finance roles. The financial component of the project was minimal but students such as Sean and Shane from Los Angeles, California embraced the component, creating five-year financial projections. Sean and Shane’s financial projections displayed a level of aptitude that displayed pure interest and could set the career foundations for both twelve-year-old boys. Some students even realized that consulting and business related occupations the Light Line project focused on didn’t appeal to them at all; this acknowledgement was a big accomplishment for these students, who will never have to wonder, “Would I have been happy doing that?”
After the final presentations Brett Wagner said, “The student’s creativity was inspiring. The final presentations reminded me that there is clearly no age limit for creative thinking. Providing an environment where the students can demonstrate creativity/innovation across a variety of business domains is essential for building a passionate workforce for the future.”
Brett continued, “It is incredibly important to get these students inspired at such a young age. Helping students find what they love is imperative for growing our talent base, and the earlier they can explore their strengths, the better. I am grateful Light Line was able to take part in such an impactful, and sustainable mission.”
As the future of U.S. education is impacted by COVID-19, Drone Forward will continue to provide robust online programs like the Youth Consulting Program to students looking to push their limits and work with other like minded individuals all over the country. DFI was lucky to have a partner like Light Line for the first Youth Consulting Project; Light Line is a company not only dedicated to excellence in their industry but also focused on the enrichment of our underrepresented youth and decreasing socioeconomic barriers that increase the education gap for many children.
Drone Forward is proud that the Youth Consulting Program provided value to Light Line and was honored when Brett Wagner said, “The time is well worth it, and I guarantee you will learn something new. It is also a fun way to expand your own network and find others who care about sustainability in innovation. Many robotics companies are constantly battling the social and economic implications of automation, but lack the means to make meaningful contributions for resolutions. I see Drone Forward as an outlet for robotics companies looking to make positive change. Drone Forward will be an essential player in the developing world of automation.”
Drone Forward welcomes all businesses in drone and robotics industries to become a part of our Youth Consulting Program. There is no cost to companies participating in the program other than coming to the table with a interesting real-time business problem. In connection, DFI is always looking for qualified volunteers to lead our consulting teams through their projects. All interested parties can go to droneforwardinc.com to learn more.