Move over, lemonade stand. Get ready, lemonade-stand app.
Imagine what a Detroit kid could create if they knew how to code. What kind of majestic structures could they conceive of if their Mindcraft obsession was channeled toward architecture, engineering or mathematics?
These are the thoughts that inspire Thanh Tran, a father of two and founder of Kidpreneur, a business that focuses on inspiring kids in the tender ages of 9 to 13 in the fine art of entrepreneurship, high-tech techniques and self-confidence.
Tran this week received word that his tween training ground – what he prefers to call an accelerator for the pre-teen set – was the third winner of the D:hive Pilot program. That means Northville-based Kidpreneur will receive two months of free retail space to share its brand-spanking new model of business-building and technology classes at 1249 Woodward Avenue.
Access to resources. Isn’t that what education, opportunity and success is all about? Kids everywhere need resources to do well – especially in Detroit. That is why having Kidpreneur downtown is as cool as having Spielhaus Toys and then some. Because you get to play and you get to have an incubator-style learning environment where great minds meet a great chance to achieve. Trust me, Steve Jobs didn’t get where he was because he lived in a bubble with no one to champion his ideas; he had resources and then some.
Detroit, Tran believes, deserves the same. Michigan is ripe for entrepreneurs, competitors. Life demands it – you cannot get away with even just a Bachelor’s in the years to come within the challenging work environment. Kids need resources, challenges and room to fail. More on failure later.
Kidpreneur, Tran tells me, is very much a work in progress. Since he launched it in August, he has watched his idea blossom in ways he didn’t expect. Kids everywhere from St. Clair Shores to New Baltimore have made the trek to his Northville site in hopes of learning about the things they love: smartphone app development, computer programming, robotics and web design. About 50 kids have gone through its initial start; that’s incredible when you consider it’s only been four months in the making and it already has two locations.
The classes, which run for either three weeks or nine weeks each, will start in mid-January in Detroit. Most will take place during the week, offering kids with big ideas a time and space to exercise their brains. The workshops and weekend events will supplement these classes, giving Kidpreneur’s mini mights some room to play individually and together. Minecraft gaming competition, anyone?
Tran believes that most parents follow what he’s loosely termed “The Three E’s” when it comes to their children’s after-school activities. There is exercise: soccer, baseball, football, etc. There is entertainment, like music lessons. And there is Education, such as tutoring.
He offers a suggestion for a fourth option: Entrepreneurship.
“We all want to keep our kids engaged in these types of activities. But we forget that last E,” Tran said. “It’s not just about being your own boss or owning a business. We want every child to be confident and be able to present their own ideas to a group.”
So at the end of those nine weeks – when kids are working together and individually in small groups – they do a formal presentation to a panel. And that panel includes not only their classmates and teacher but others from the community who can offer advice and encouragement. It won’t all be positive. But that’s part of life as well. Toughen up, buttercup.
And girls will work with girls. Boys will work with boys. It’s not about gender discrimination – it’s about finding the right environment for these genders to thrive. In some classes, the girls would step back when the boys all jumped into a project. Tran doesn’t want to see that, so he has chosen to lift all boats by keeping it simple and honest. You don’t like it? Then start your own pilot program.
That’s not to say that all of his decisions on how to organize this business have been that easy. Part of the struggle Tran faces with offering Kidpreneur to the world is embracing the greater world. What about kids with special needs? What about those who cannot afford to be here?
That is why he is offering an outreach program that gives at least one kid a chance to take a class with a scholarship. It’s a free ride to a brighter future, he notes, and each class will have space for a Detroit resident. (Word needs to spread on this quickly – share the link to the application site, please.)
So why middle schoolers? Aren’t they just a little too wiggly? Aren’t they not developed enough mentally to really do this stuff? Tran believes there is a sweet spot there – most entrepreneurial programs are aimed at teens or older. There is nothing for these sweet kiddos, and the early response to Kidpreneur has been a sure sign that the parents who schelp these tots around are willing to make both the financial and personal investment in their progeny. (Classes run around $300 to $400 for the term; expensive, but a for-profit business has got to make a profit.)
Kidpreneur will hold an informational session for interested parties from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14 at D:hive to go over some of the basics. There are some ground rules for the kids who participate, and these classes are rigorous, so there has to be a buy-in for this all to work, Tran notes.
Pilot is a collaboration between D:hive and Opportunity Detroit in hopes of adding lots more retail to downtown Detroit (and, hopefully, beyond. Hey, a girl can dream. These are some cool ideas and this is definitely a place where a city-suburb alliance would be welcome).
Kidpreneur has had offers to grow super big, super fast. The company could have gone into schools, created assemblies. But Tran wants the one-on-one feel of these small classes (most are about five kids) and tiny events (maybe 10 kiddos at a time). An incubator has to be small, lean and savvy. And, just maybe, make a few mistakes along the way.
“I own three startups and two software companies … and I’m still learning,” Tran laughs. “We want to teach kids that failure is part of success. You have to fail to succeed. … We love to tell these types of stories.”