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science nonprofit startup helyx initiative founded by launchx high school entrepreneur

Starting a Nonprofit: From One Member to Six Hundred

By Andrew Gao

May 23, 2020

This blog was written by 2019 LaunchX Alum Andrew Gao. Since completing the program he has gone on to create a non-profit called The Helyx Initiative. Read on to see how he built his nonprofit from the ground up, with some of the lessons he learned from LaunchX.

What The Helyx Initiative Does:

The Helyx Initiative is a youth bioinformatics education nonprofit with 600 members around the world. I personally founded The Helyx Initiative in December 2019. I noticed that there was a need for more STEM education, especially in the area of bioinformatics. I was working on a biomedical engineering research project at the time and was frustrated at the lack of available resources to high school students. I originally founded The Helyx Initiative to be a club that holds lessons on bioinformatics, coding, and research methods, but it has grown far past what I originally envisioned.

Since December, we’ve rapidly expanded, gaining around 250 members in April alone. We held an online high school environmental sustainability/biotech hackathon and pitchfest (Hack the Helyx) in April with the support of Spark Teen, another teen organization. We also launched a free online STEM tutoring program to support kids whose schooling has been affected by COVID-19: https://tutoring.glitch.me/. An ongoing program is our free group computational research program with around 90 participants working to write a research paper.

Additionally, with the help of our amazing Editor in Chief, Joanne Lee, we’ve maintained an active online blog with many science articles written by youth that have garnered thousands of views. For example, here’s a recent article by William Kang, Helyx Assistant CTO, on protein folding: https://www.helyx.science/post/protein-folding-and-misfolding and here’s an article by Yash Gupta, CTO, on Convolutional Neural Networks and machine learning: https://www.helyx.science/post/basic-convolutional-neural-network-cnn-architecture. Joanne is also currently editing and formatting student research papers for our Science Journal.

The Helyx Initiative is very active in the STEM outreach community. We held a fundraiser and raised hundreds of dollars to purchase PPE for healthcare heroes. We also provided marketing and design support to Youth Care Club by giving SEO advice and helping create social media posts. Youth Care Club is a local San Diego youth organization dedicated to providing healthcare workers with meals. They have raised over $9,000!

We have also launched a podcast and Youtube channel with hours of educational content in math, biology, and more. Additionally, we have published special videos with exclusive lectures from top researchers. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwoNjUxFbO1isTE5GjRI9ew

Here’s what we have planned for the summer...

  • Our yearly flagship event: the International Youth Research Summit will be held in June. The world’s top youth researchers will convene online to present and discuss their research. To sign up: http://bit.ly/iyrs2020

  • We have an upcoming free Intro to AI workshop on May 30 - May 31, 2020 with DMVHacks, yet another teen-led organization! You can register here: http://bit.ly/helyxdmv

  • We are also working with Beyond the 5 and Harvard Coronavirus Visualization Team to create a free online coronavirus research course.

Lessons from LaunchX:

Attending LaunchX was instrumental to the success of Helyx. I used many of the business and personal skills I learned at LaunchX to expand Helyx. Here are some of the most important ones.

Collaboration:

Collaboration is really important! It’s important to get out of the mindset of “they’re our competitor”. When you work with other organizations, everyone benefits. You may have noticed that Helyx does a lot of partnerships/support with other teen organizations: Spark Teen, Beyond the 5, DMVHacks, Youth Care Club. By helping each other, you can expand your reach and audience and technically accomplish something with half the work (assuming you and your partner input equally). 

Goals:

Setting SMART goals is really important!

SMART goals - specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound

SMART goals helped me achieve my tasks and goals for Helyx, as well as helped me help others achieve theirs too. When managing a team on a big project, it’s important to set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals. You will learn techniques for setting SMART goals at LaunchX.

Team, Team, Team!

The team is the MOST IMPORTANT thing for a successful company/initiative. When selecting my team for Helyx, I made sure to be very careful and select people who were hardworking, diligent, and trustworthy above all. It’s important to choose people who you can feel comfortable with and trust. 

Assembling a very good core team is essential. I think it’s one of the reasons why Helyx has enjoyed continued momentum over many months, while many other teen orgs fizzle out after the initial weeks. 

(Shout out to my amazing core team: Mason Holmes, Sid Udata, Yash Gupta, Joanne Lee, William Kang, Chris Jung, and Sarah Gao)

 

There were a few times when there were small team conflicts caused by stress and more. In those times, it was useful to apply conflict resolution techniques I learned at LaunchX. For example, if someone is not doing their work repeatedly, it is beneficial to speak to them privately and figure out what the root cause is (health, family situation, grades, etc.)

Criticism/Pushback:

Getting criticism is a good thing! It’s very informative and helpful to a growing organization.

However, sometimes criticism isn’t constructive and it can be in an effort to bring you down. As I started Helyx, I received a lot of negative feedback and hurtful comments in public and private chats. “You’ll never make it”. “Just another college app farm”. “Don’t join Helyx”. (for example)

Having a thick skin and ignoring the “haters” is important for leaders because there will inevitably be people who are jealous and don’t want to see you succeed. Some of the people who originally voiced their dislike for Helyx have since joined.

Marketing:

One reason I think Helyx has been successful is because of our capacity for marketing. Along with Sid Udata, and recently Meryl Liu, we maintain an active Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter presence with hundreds of followers. We are active on many platforms, even Youtube and TikTok! Given the large amount of teen organizations that are started but then fizzle out, it’s very important to demonstrate to a potential member that you are active and thriving! By having active social media profiles, it shows your organization’s activity.
 

Helyx in the news:

  1. https://www.delmartimes.net/news/story/2020-05-12/canyon-crest-academy-student-create-free-tutoring-service

  2. https://www.delmartimes.net/news/story/2020-03-30/canyon-crest-students-host-hackathon

Getting involved:

If you’re interested in getting involved with Helyx, visit http://helyxscience.org/ and click on the Discord link, or email me with questions at the email below! 

Contact Me:

andrew@helyxscience.org

https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrewgao22/

Acknowledgements:

I couldn’t do this alone. I have an amazing team behind me. Quick shoutout to all of them: 

Yash Gupta: CTO, Co-director of Hack the Helyx

William Kang: Assistant CTO, VP of Outreach at Hack the Helyx

Mason Holmes: CDO

Sid Udata: CMO

Meryl Liu: Assistant to the CMO

Joanne Lee: Editor in Chief

And also:

Chris Jung: Assistant to the CEO, HR lead

Sarah Gao: Assistant to the CEO, Events lead

And of course all the tutors, Youtubers, TikTokers, podcasters and more! There are too many to list but we will be releasing a website page soon with acknowledgements.