What happens when you teach young people to code? They create amazing things.
This became apparent to me at the second annual NYC Generation Tech demo night, where 43 students from underserved New York City high schools showed off mobile apps they'd developed over the last 11 weeks through GenTech's entrepreneurship program. The only requirement? The apps had to "improve education or city life for students in New York City." Three teams, deemed finalists, competed for a prize of $5,000, the chance to pitch their app to Union Square Ventures, and a branding consultation with Harley & Co. Those are no small prizes, and with a huge audience and a panel of judges including big names like Dave Gilboa, cofounder and co-CEO of Warby Parker, and Alexis Ohanian, the founder of Reddit, the pressure was on.
But where many an introverted high school student would have faltered, these kids, some just barely sophomores, shined. Dressed in their best outfits and barely breaking a sweat, they walked the judges through their apps in presentations that had all the hallmarks of an Apple keynote. "So, picture this…" began Karishma Maraj, the 10th grade president of team SproutEd. Behind her, a smooth visual presentation, and to her left, her four teammates, all decked in SproutEd gear. The app is an education network for students to collaborate and discuss homework and assignments. The judges loved it, and it was crowned the night's winner.
In second place was Insyper U, an educational app that encourages learning through interactive, crime-solving games. In third place, the Mealr app, which uses social competition to encourage a healthy lifestyle among young people. And the kids had everything figured out, from their target audience to short-term business models. SproutEd projected a $12,000 annual revenue for 2014.
"These kids, they didn't even know any programing jumping into this," said Kara Goldin, CEO and founder of Hint, Inc. and one of the event's judges. "They had to get together and actually build and also sell their idea to other kids in addition to building a whole business model in a short amount of time. I thought it was incredible."
"We are in the era of technology," said Brandon Atkinson, senior vice president, global services at AppNexus, which hosted the event. "I know New York is going to be better because of this program."
[Image: Flickr user kewl]