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UpStart teen fellow creates gravity-powered washing machine

by Benjamin Rosenberg

Few teenagers are able to travel to a foreign country to pitch their own invention. Then again, not many teenagers receive a patent before they start high school.

Sophie Goldberg is that rare exception. Through her participation in the PresenTense Colorado Teen Fellowship (now the “UpStart Teen Fellowship”), she traveled to rural Guatemala this summer to promote the Grav-WASH-ity, a gravity-powered washing machine designed for communities with limited access to electricity.

Goldberg, a junior at Denver East High School, participated in the fellowship as a freshman, during the 2016-17 school year. By the time she enrolled in the program, she already had a patent for the Grav-WASH-ity and was looking to take it a step further.

“I was paired up with a coach (Joanna French), a woman who runs an organization that funds an all-girls school in Guatemala,” Goldberg said. “I traveled to the all-girls school and to some rural communities around the country to see where the need for the Grav-WASH-ity really is.”

Goldberg’s trip, the coach, and the partnership with the school were funded entirely by UpStart Teen Fellowship. Goldberg also delivered a presentation in Spanish to students at the school about the importance of thinking critically. She said the students responded well to the presentation and felt inspired by her work.

“They really loved the whole concept of thinking critically, how that’s a worldwide idea that girls all over the world need to work for,” Goldberg said. “Not only did I encourage them to find new ways to clean their clothes, and potentially utilize the Grav-WASH-ity in the future, I also inspired them to really take what they’re learning in school, use their voice, advocate, and put that to the test in their everyday lives.”

Goldberg’s next step will be finding a manufacturer for the Grav-WASH-ity to perfect her prototype and make the product more affordable. She hopes to return to Guatemala in the near future to give the Grav-WASH-ity to communities in need.

She has also remained involved with UpStart, serving on the Student Advisory Board of the Colorado cohort, which is currently accepting applications. Goldberg got a lot out of developing her venture, and says, “One of the most important things that (the fellowship does) is allow kids to think of their own problem, bring it to (the program), and help them network and expand their target market and their contacts. I think that’s extremely important especially in a place where the Jewish community is extremely strong, but some kids may not know how to use it to their advantage.”

Now a part of UpStart, the Teen Fellowship has undergone some updates to better support participants. Participants work in groups instead of individually, and the focus is now on helping teens find their voices and learn about the resources available to them in the Jewish community.

As a member of the Student Advisory Board, Goldberg now has the chance to help institute some of the changes to the program. She is also helping younger Jewish teens in the Denver area navigate the program and find ways to get involved in the Denver Jewish community.

Yoni Buckman, who took over the program this year, and is UpStart’s Design Strategist for Colorado, said social entrepreneurship is a good way for students to learn about what they value.

“High school students, teenagers are figuring out what is and is not important to them,” Buckman said. “This is a program that is not only going to push them to identify those things, but is also going to give them the skills, not just to find their voice, but also to share it.”

Goldberg was certainly able to find her voice through the Teen Fellowship, as evidenced by her presentation to the girls at the school in Guatemala. Although fellows in the program will now be working in groups, students still have the opportunity to bring their own ideas to life and then modify them while collaborating with their peers.

Applications are now open for the current cohort of the UpStart Teen Fellowship.

Benjamin Rosenberg is a journalism major at Northwestern University and was a 2018 Kohn Summer Intern at UpStart in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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