Even though his very first entrepreneurship experience, which was selling duct tape folders in the 5th grade, ended up in the principal’s office, it did not stop Nikolai Ortiz from creating his own company years later. Nikolai, a senior at Stanford Online High School, is the founder and president of the Competitive Entrepreneurship Club, as well as Student Government Board Chair of Events, a filmmaker, and a dancer.
The Competitive Entrepreneurship Club, or CEC, helps high school students launch and develop their own startup companies by teaching them business management skills. But before creating the CEC, Nikolai created Connecting Tomorrow, a social media management company.
Connecting Tomorrow provides free social media management training for Guatemalan students who then work for American companies. “Our goal is to help Guatemalan students, who are at risk, pay for their university education and simultaneously help small business owners reach Spanish-speaking audiences more effectively in the US,” Nikolai explains. Having grown up in a predominantly Latino region, Nikolai noticed that the businesses that don’t cater to their Spanish-speaking audience miss out on a lot of potential clients, so he came up with a solution that would benefit not only companies, but also those in need. Connecting Tomorrow was created through the MIT Launch X program, and when Nikolai and his team decided to participate in its Northern California Regional Competition, they won. When the MIT Launch X club was later canceled, he was inspired to create the CEC, a unique OHS take on the program.
As the founder of the CEC, Nikolai used his experience with Connecting Tomorrow to create a custom curriculum from scratch. He designed a program that would make creating a startup company attainable for any student, the only requirements it had were hard work and passion. This program also helped teams launch companies that would go on to win many different competitions, such as the Blue Ocean Competition, the Diamond Challenge and the Conrad Challenge. The CEC’s curriculum includes “a few added tips for young entrepreneurs and, of course, inserted memes to make the process more fun”, shares Christine Sinn, the Vice President of the CEC. She says that the knowledge and feedback garnered over the past years has been utilized as well: “Many of our friends who were CEC Alumni also gave us tips for improving the curriculum, and now we’re back with a shiny and fresh curriculum that we hope is more helpful than ever before”.
As for future goals and dreams, the CEC founder does not only want profit out of his company: “My number one goal is to always help people. I’ve always been someone who doesn’t do entrepreneurship for the money, I do entrepreneurship to help others”. While competing in different entrepreneurship contests may win you some cash, the club’s main focus is on helping Pixels make the world a better place through their startups. For instance, ArcadED, one of the businesses Nikolai helped create, works to make STEM education more accessible and enjoyable for students by converting it into a video game format.
When asked how his love for helping people came about, it is evident that creating solutions and inventing new things has always been a passion of Nikolai’s. “In a way, I was always developing products, even from a very young age”, he says. When he was still in elementary school, he noticed that the students’ math folders were of low quality and would always rip open, so to fix that problem, he started selling handmade folders. The principal shut the business down, but Nikolai did not stop inventing: he went on to create eco-friendly stormwater pollution filters for his community. He never got around to selling them, but as he has already said, his main goal is to help people, not make money. This passion for philanthropy eventually led him to creating Connecting Tomorrow and the CEC.
Other than through entrepreneurship, Nikolai has found ways to give back to his community. He is the Board Chair of Events in the Student Government team, and his ultimate goal is to “help decrease loneliness of the school”. One event that he has created is Speed Dating for Friends, which takes place during the Stanford OHS Houseparty, a bi-weekly gathering that helps students connect and make bonds of friendships. Ikera Olandesca, the Board Chair of Communications and Outreach, says that after sending out surveys for the Summer Staycation, she noticed that students “were very happy about it [Speed Dating for Friends] and I know a lot of people who made new friends because of it.”
In his free time, Nikolai likes to make YouTube videos. For now he has publicly published only one video, “Vidcon 2019: The Experience; Part 1”, in which he attends a video tech convention. “It was something that I was proud of and I wanted to look back on for a very long time, so that sort of why I do it”, he explains.
Juggling so many activities has not been very easy for Nikolai. “I think that if my life needs one thing right now, it’s balance”, he admits. And while he has improved his time management skills greatly, being such a proactive senior at OHS has been a challenge at times. But Christine Sinn, not only the Vice President of the CEC, but also Nikolai’s friend, believes that it’s going to be a great year because of his “ability to look at the challenges in life and bring joy to others while grabbing life by the horns and taking it all in stride”.