WE'RE TAKING A CLOSER LOOK AT THE INTERESTING LIVES OF OUR INCUBATEES -- WHEN THEY AREN’T WORKING ON SOLVING COMPLEX SOCIAL PROBLEMS.
by Daniela Schwartz
Meet MC Villasenor, Founder of Noviaris.
You had your own project idea before you began working with Elix. Where did you come up with Noviaris and what is it?
Noviaris is connecting San Francisco’s wealthiest institutions and the underprivileged through surplus technology. What that means, in practice, is collecting technology such as iPads and phones from schools or tech companies and then redistributing them to local organizations, most of them with established tech programs, who could benefit from the use of tech.
What has it been like working with students you own age to develop a real social venture? Is it less intimidating, do you think, then if it were run by adults?
I think it has been an incredible experience working with students, especially because I think going into the world of entrepreneurship can be really scary, especially if you are young. Having peer supporters is more comfortable, it’s nice brainstorm with people who are in a similar place as you. And in all honesty, it is less intimidating. I think in a lot of ways teanagers are discreditted because adults think our ideas aren’t valid or that we don’t know what we are doing yet. To have other teenagers helping you with a project, you all come from that same place of having been discredited because of your age and you can all relate to that.
How did you come up with Noviaris? Have you always been interested in creating a social venture?
I’ve always kind of admired the idea of entrepreneurship. It’s this big term when you’re young that sounds fancy and lofty in a way that seems almost unachievable, especially if you don’t have a “big idea.” Entrepreneurship was something that I’ve always been interested in, but, I was always held back by that thought that I didn’t have a “big idea,” or experience or anyone to guide me. About a year ago my class visited St. Anthony’s in San Francisco where we learned about about the tech lab and my friend, Odelia said “What if we could get technology into these places?” And from there we started brainstorming and realized it was possible.
How much time per week do you spend working on Noviaris?
I think it comes and goes in waves. There have been some weeks when I’m working on it multiple hours a day, especially if there is a deadline coming up. I would say probably on average I spend an hour or two a day. Then again, it does come in waves and that’s something that I didn’t know before I came into this world of entrepreneurship.
Would you say that your project idea was inspired by your school trip to St. Anthony’s?
Yes, it was entirely inspired by that trip. San Francisco is hailed as the tech capital of the world and seeing other people who don’t have access to tech wait in line for a computer, you very obviously see the disparity of wealth that exists in this community.
I bet Elix takes up a large majority of your after school time, but when you aren’t working on Noviaris what do you like to do?
I am very committed to volleyball. During the school year I am on the varsity team and then I play on a decently competitive club volleyball team for the rest of the year. So my season runs from about August to early July. I came into the volleyball world late and so I kind of started from the bottom. It’s kind of been this process where I’ve gone from a place of not being respected in volleyball, to a place where I have earned respect. With volleyball, what made it happen was hard work, and I think it will work similarly with Noviaris.
Is there a specific moment that you can remember that really made you love playing volleyball?
The fondest memory I can think of right now is when I was at Bruins Camp, which is a UCLA summer camp. My mom had played volleyball when she was in high school and I was looking for a sport to get into [before I went to high school]. So she took me out to the court and we started passing the volleyball and that was where I discovered how much I love it.
What is a random quirk about you?
I’m a really bad dancer. I’m just way too tall so whenever I try to dance I just flail around ridiculously and it’s really funny to watch. I’m six feet tall, so just imagine me trying to dance. That was one of the reasons why I tried volleyball.
In ten years, where do you see yourself?
In ten years I’d want to be working on Noviaris. Whether or not this project succeeds really depends on how it’s adopted by the community I’m working with and if I can build a sustainable plan and system that works in practice. If it does, that would be a dream come true. If it weren’t to succeed then I’d hope to be in some other kind of start-up situation.