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Empowering Tomorrow's Leaders: Highlights from the Austin Chapter's Transformative Youth Conference and Social Entrepreneurs Competition

Cedar Park, Tx: On March 2nd, 2024, the Austin Chapter of the Tamil Nadu Foundation orchestrated a transformative full-day youth conference focused on college preparation and social entrepreneurship. The highlight of the day was the Young Social Entrepreneurs Competition, providing a platform for young minds to showcase their innovative solutions to real-world problems.

The conference commenced with a series of insightful sessions led by industry leaders and role models, all geared towards guiding the attending youth through the intricacies of the college preparation process.

Perry Alagappan, originally hailing from Houston, Texas, and now residing in Sunnyvale, California, played a pivotal role as a founding member of the TNF Youth Internship Program for US Students. A graduate in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University, Alagappan emerged as a relatable and inspiring figure in the room, particularly for those aspiring to pursue engineering degrees. Drawing from his rich experience as a hardware engineer and a Platoon Leader in the U.S. Army, Alagappan became a focal point for enthusiastic teens eager to delve into the world of engineering and military leadership.

Dr. Chinna Natesan, a distinguished professor at Texas State University, holds a Ph.D. in Marketing and currently serves as an associate professor at the university. Dr. Natesan brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table, engaging the student crowd in invigorating conversations. His discussions centered around the challenges faced by high schoolers and offered valuable guidance on striking a balance between academic excellence and fostering robust social skills. Dr. Natesan's ability to blend informative insights with entertaining commentary kept the participants captivated and actively involved in the enlightening discussions.

In furthering the holistic development of the student attendees, Dr. Sanjay Shakkottal, an award-winning professor at the University of Texas and Editor-in-Chief of IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking, shared his invaluable perspective on the factors influencing success in the industry. Dr. Shakkottal's insights, drawn from his extensive experience, added depth to the discussions, providing students with a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics that contribute to success in their respective fields.

Participants, predominantly hailing from South Asian families, were treated to firsthand experiences and valuable advice during engaging Q&A sessions and panel discussions. The emphasis was on providing practical tips and crucial insights into the college application and selection criteria, aligning with the shared aspiration for continuous excellence within the South Asian community.

The latter half of the day was dedicated to the Young Social Entrepreneurs Competition, a unique and inspiring initiative. This initiative was led by Dr Pitchiah Balasubramanian, a senior versatile and innovative business technology leader with over 30 years of progressive experience. In addition to being involved in US Robotics First Lego League (FLL) as a coach, mentor and judge, he has also been an enthusiastic volunteer for ATEA and Tamil Sangam. “I have been involved in conducting social entrepreneur competitions for adults resulting in large amounts of seed funding. This is my give back and my way of making an impact on the next generation. They have incredible potential,” Pitchiah added, “and it is exciting to see all the effort that these youth have put in to produce such good solutions.” Dr Pitchiah was the master mind in conceptualizing the social entrepreneurs competition for this event.

Six shortlisted participants, representing the cream of the youth talent pool, were presented with three distinct problem statements. Each team or individual participant selected one statement and embarked on designing an innovative solution aligned with their chosen problem. The challenge sparked creativity and critical thinking, encouraging teens to grapple with real-world issues.

The preliminary round saw the submission of thoughtfully crafted pitches, each offering a unique approach to solving the given problem statement. A panel of esteemed judges meticulously evaluated these submissions, considering factors such as feasibility, cost to deploy, and anticipated impact. The competition culminated in a riveting final round, where the finalists had the opportunity to present their entrepreneurial models before the judging panel.

The teens showcased a remarkable commitment to social causes, demonstrating their passion for creating solutions that encompassed social impact, awareness, and health and wellness. The event not only fostered an entrepreneurial spirit but also highlighted the social consciousness and innovative thinking embedded in the younger generation.

Judges panel thought that was not an easy task to select winners. “The 1st prize winner had a differentiating prototype that they brought to the presentation room, which got them extra points;” shared the judges, “but second and third place winners were close and tough to select. They were all very good.”

The event was presided over by Veera Venugopalan, president TNF who came specially for the event from Chicago. TNF, under his leadership, is gearing up to celebrate 50 years of their existence, in May 2024.

By combining elements of college preparation and social entrepreneurship, the Austin Chapter of the Tamil Nadu Foundation successfully created a platform that not only empowers youth in their academic pursuits but also nurtures their potential as socially conscious and innovative leaders. The event stands as a testament to the community's dedication to fostering excellence, collaboration, and positive change among its youth.



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