What is a Spike and Does it Really Help Boost College Admissions?

Lloyd Nimetz is the Founder & CEO of Spike Lab, a new type of start-up incubator designed for highly motivated teens. The company is a one-on-one entrepreneurship coaching program for high school students to build real-world social ventures and businesses. 

Lloyd is a Stanford MBA and 5-time serial entrepreneur and was previously on the founding team of Dev Bootcamp, the first coding bootcamp (acquired by Kaplan, Inc. in 2014). Spike Lab’s mission is to unleash the students’ full potential, putting them on a path to be lifelong innovators and purpose-driven leaders.

In this interview for On Point with PREMINENTE, What is a Spike and Does it Really Help Boost College Admissions, Lloyd shared his perspective on Spikes and why they are so valuable for high school students. *Spoiler Alert: It’s not just about college admissions*

Let’s start at the beginning: What is a Spike?

A Spike is a long-term, ambitious passion project that has real world impact. It can be a new business, artistic endeavor, academic research, non-profit or other type of mission-driven venture. The key is that it is unique, and both creates impact and is meaningful to the student. While many of our clients are high school and college students, a Spike can be done at any age.

Is boosting a college resume the main reason to do a Spike?

Absolutely not. This is the biggest misconception people have about Spikes. After a student is done with the Spike process and admitted to college, we often do a retrospective and ask the families what was the most valuable part of the Spike process. Yes, they will mention the impact it had on college admissions (90% of our students get admitted to one of their “reach” colleges), but they always put much greater weight on the other benefits of the process, which include: 

  • Learning how to build something with real-world impact 
  • Developing purpose and pride
  • Deepening a passion 
  • Developing critical 21st century skills

These attributes happen to be exactly what many selective colleges are looking for in the admissions process, so we view the boost just as a side effect of the growth that a student undergoes. 

How does Spike coaching work?

Over the last 8 years, we’ve iterated many times to get to what we think is the most effective model and curriculum. It’s a one-on-one coaching model where coaches and students meet weekly for 90 minutes, over Zoom or in person. Between coaching sessions, students work on their own to further the project. Our coaches are very accomplished people who have walked in the students’ shoes before, both in terms of starting things and being high-achieving themselves, and we spend a lot of time to ensure they’re a great match for the student. 

Our program was derived from accelerator programs and top business schools’ entrepreneurship/innovation programs like Y-Combinator, Stanford GSB and more, but we adjusted it for the very different occasion facing teenagers. It is broken down into six stages: founder story, identification, validation, launch, growth, scale. 

Most of our students do not come to us with a Spike idea or even a clear sense of what interest area to focus on. We help them clarify their interests and identity, brainstorm a great idea and then implement it. Along the way students are learning best practices in entrepreneurship and innovation such as design thinking and lean startup methodologies and mindsets. Our program starts with a twelve-session starter package and then students will usually renew periodically until they feel confident pursuing the Spike on their own. Students will typically work with us for 5-7 months but many continue for multiple years.              

Who should do a Spike and how much time does it take?

Any student who is excited by the idea of pursuing a Spike is the right student for our program. After many years of doing this work, we’ve noticed this to be the single greatest determining factor for success – not academic prowess or having good Spike ideas. The students who are excited about doing a Spike tend to be the most motivated to put in the time and hard work that it takes to succeed. In addition to the 90-minute coaching session, students on average spend 2-4 hours of additional time working on their Spike per week, but the time varies from student to student based on student availability, time of year (i.e. summer) and other factors like their level of commitment, sense of urgency, and the type of Spike.   

If you had one piece of advice for a student considering a Spike, what would it be?

Get ready to fail. Unlike at school, where getting anything but an “A” often feels like a failure, our program presents students with the harshness and ambiguity of the real world. Students learn so much and gain so much confidence from embracing setbacks and finding ways to bounce back. A Spike builds great resilience and confidence and can prove to be the launchpad for a student’s entrepreneurial journey.

Let us help you bring your passion to life and find your Spike!

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