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VFA Training Camp: Week 4, Week 5, Boston

The epic conclusion of a five-week journey pretending to be a student at Brown University.

In between late night working sessions, afternoon keynote speakers and a dearth of free time, I let week 4 slide by without a blog. So now I’m condensing week 4, week 5 and how I got lost in Boston into one post.

Good thing I write concisely. Let’s go.

Week 4: Highlights

Week 4 is the best week of camp in terms of hands-on learning. VFA brought in IDEO on Monday to teach product development and human-centered design—and then gave teams a week to create, prototype and test a new product. On Friday teams would compete in front of a panel of UBS judges with the winning team taking home $10,000 to build out the product post-camp.

So basically we had 96 hours to build an investment-worthy prototype. And so “The Product Challenge” began.

My team received the challenge of improving the process of buying healthy food. So after talking with about 60 people in grocery stores, standing in front of a wall of post-it notes for 10 hours and several prototype iterations, my team ended up with EasyChef.

EasyChef is not a mind-blowing concept—

Problem: Cooking healthy is a hassle because ingredients for healthy recipes are scattered all over the store. People don't like grocery stores, and they don't want to spend time in stores trying to track down ingredients.

Solution: Put all the ingredients needed to make a healthy meal in a box along with the recipe.

We convinced an East Side Market manager to let us test the concept in her store. We talked with a lot of people that digged the concept—some people actually bought the prototype even though it was literally just store ingredients put in a basket.

We did well in the competition—didn’t win, but we were the only team that got our early-stage prototype to sell. It might not be a scalable company, but it’s cool to go from zero to sales in 96 hours. Definitely a gain in research / prototyping / design skills.

Week 5: Highlights

Keynote speakers on keynote speakers on keynote speakers. Week 5 slowed way down to make time for the last round of speakers, panels and trainers. From CEOs of startups you never heard of to employee No. 3 at Khan Academy, the room was bumping with real talk from cool people.

Week 5 also held the most abstract challenge of camp: “The Value Challenge.” Create / build something that adds value to your job, your city or VFA. I’m a practical guy, so Joel (the other VFA fellow going to Indigo Project) and I just went to work on company-related projects. It got Indigo ahead in prep for all of our fall work streams, helped with our onboarding process and we made money logging hours. Win-win-win.

Time spent working: 10-ish hours. Time spent building presentation of work to VFA: 10-ish minutes.

And then with a closing dinner and few last speeches, VFA training camp concluded.

Hanging with Michael and my camp beard.

My team for the past five weeks of training.

Encore: Boston

I’ve been itching to go to Boston. It’s only an hour away from Providence, and train tickets cost $10. Here’s the breakdown of my haphazardly planned half-day in Boston.

12:30pm – decide I want to go to Boston
12:35pm – convince others to go to Boston with me
1:38pm – Arrive at train station, buy tickets
1:40pm – Train arrives, Boston bound
2:40pm – Arrive in Boston
3:30pm – Tour Harvard/MIT area, AKA the Disney World of American universities
4:30pm – Break off from friends to tour Boston Museum of Fine Arts to get #cultured

George Washington, looking like a boss.
This other guy, looking not-quite-like-a-boss.
6:00pm – Leave museum, realize I don’t know where my friends are at currently
6:10pm – Realize Google Maps/Uber won’t work because I’m too close to Fenway Park
6:11pm – Realize this basically means I’m lost
6:12 – 7:45pm – Ask people on the streets if they know where Huntington Avenue is at, take pictures of cool looking buildings
7:45pm – Arrive at Huntington Avenue, find friends, eat dinner
8:30pm – Leave Boston

This is probably the most erratically planned, impulsive trip I have ever organized. It was absolutely fantastic.


I got off my Southwest flight at 5:30pm CST Saturday and walked outside to a heat index of 110+ degrees Fahrenheit. The land is flat, the grass is burnt and Monday the state decided to shake things up with four earthquakes, including a M4.5 quake that shook my home.

Okla Home sweet ‘homa. Good to be back in the land where the wind comes sweeping down the plains.

The past five weeks have been an Ivy-colored, 70 degrees Fahrenheit blur of challenges, training, speakers, real talk, hiking and startup slang. It was a blast, but it was time to leave. I’m ready to go to work, I’m ready to rejoin the real world, and I’m ready to start my life in Boulder.

One more week in my childhood home, and then I am out. If you are in town, let’s catch a Josh’s snow cone or go for a Turkey Mountain morning hike, because I’m getting antsy and my new home / new job is calling my name.

T-minus seven days until I start living that Boulder startup life. Let the new adventures begin, and training to climb a 14K mountain in summer 2016 commence.
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