Catching Up With Kidpreneur, and One of Its Kids, a Year Later

Last year, serial entrepreneur Thanh Tran launched a new venture to teach kids about Web design, coding, robotics, and the “lean startup” philosophy of entrepreneurship. In October, the company moved into a new office space in Wixom, MI, and Ben Seidman, Kidpreneur’s business and marketing manager, says things are booming.

“Out here, we have more opportunities,” Seidman says. “Parents, schools, and community organizations are in tune with what we’re trying to teach.”

I visited in early January, right after the winter break camp had concluded, and evidence of the session lingered: startup ideas scrawled in childish print on whiteboards, components from a robotics workshop, a bowl of holiday chocolates.

Seidman says Kidpreneur offers many different tracks of classes and has expanded its offerings to include 3D printing and the PC version of the video game Minecraft, which the company says teaches kids valuable lessons in pre-engineering and creativity.

Of the two dozen classes currently listed on its website, about half are full, and mid-winter camps planned for later this month are also filling up. Both parents and students, it seems, are responding to Kidpreneur’s mission to instill the confidence and technical skills that kids can carry with them as they get older.

“What differentiates us is we give kids the tools to get them thinking how to make money or help society,” Seidman says. “We really push social responsibility.”

For the new year, the company is working on a way to reach kids whose parents might not be in the loop when it comes to the importance of learning technological skills. Kidpreneur wants to send boxes out containing DIY lessons that the kids can work on at home.

“We want them ultimately to come and learn with other kids, but if that’s not possible, this is the next best thing,” Seidman explains. Each box, geared toward kids in sixth through eighth grades, will contain a toy kit, projects, and a coupon. “We’re really excited because it will allow us to reach people outside of our usual realm.” A Kidpreneur student who came all the way from Wisconsin to participate in a Minecraft tournament helped inspire the idea.

Kidpreneur recently began offering online classes over Skype, Sunday classes, and all-girl classes. In December, it participated in Hour of Code, a global initiative to teach kids coding basics; 400 kids from 10 schools in metro Detroit joined in the fun. Seidman says Kidpreneur is also working to find sponsors for interested students who can’t afford to attend classes, and the company is reaching out to schools and libraries to gauge interest in after-school programs taught by Kidpreneur in person or over Skype.

Even with the flurry of activity, Seidman says Kidpreneur is only operating at about 25 percent capacity, and the company’s goal is to be at 50 to 75 percent by the end of 2015. “We’re talking to investors and we could expand outside of Michigan, but we want to build this out first and grow to our maximum potential before scaling to other cities and states.”

One satisfied Kidpreneur customer is an 11-year-old from Northville, MI, named Noah; his parents asked us not to use his last name. So far, he’s taken classes in Minecraft, 3D printing, and entrepreneurship. With Kidpreneur’s guidance, he just launched his own startup called Tag … UR It! to make custom dog tags.

“I couldn’t find any cool accessories to wear,” Noah says, when explaining what inspired his startup. “My friends kept finding them, but they were really expensive. Dog tags are one of the simplest and cheapest accessories to make.”

Noah says he learned starting a business is a lot more difficult than he imagined. It took a bit of trial and error before he was able to figure out things like pricing. His favorite part of the experience, he says, was coming up with design ideas for dog tags and then seeing them come to fruition. Ten years from now, he hopes to still be an entrepreneur.

“It was a really great experience meeting kids with the same interests,” he says. “It’s a really safe environment to try things.”

That safety appeals to Noah’s parents, too. His dad found out about Kidpreneur after he saw an article about it online, and he says there’s nothing like it in the Chicago area, where the family lived before moving to Northville.

“One thing that’s tough for Noah is when they do these demo days,” he says, referring to the live pitching that each Kidpreneur student must participate in as the class session is coming to an end. “It makes him very anxious. But, at his age, to have that experience is such an invaluable thing, especially with the way technology is today. Young people don’t know how to communicate, and Kidpreneur really gave him confidence.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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