Photo courtesy: David Kwok

Hey kid, wanna buy some code?

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By Jacob Dubé

In a changing business landscape, more and more people have resorted to creating their own jobs in technology. ZerotoStartup, a program based at Ryerson University and business firm Celestica, offers a class to teach youths aged 12 to 17 useful skills to make it in the technology world.

Anandhi Narayanan from Celestica and recent Ryerson graduate David Kwok founded ZerotoStartup. It was created after a report from global management firm McKinsey & Company was released, detailing how low the unemployment rate was among youth aged 15-24 in Toronto, almost double the national average.

“Canada is known to be great users of technology. We love our technology and we always buy them, we never create them.”

A team — including former Ryerson president Sheldon Levy — came together to try and solve the problem, and ZerotoStartup was created.

“Canada is known to be great users of technology. We love our technology and we always buy them, we never create them,” Kwok said. He says they created the 13-week program to help kids develop their ideas.

From February to May of last year, Kwok and his team worked on creating the content for the curriculum. They then spent a couple months testing the program on pre-existing camps and workshops to get feedback. In July, they began signing people up for their inaugural program that ran from Sept. 19 to Dec. 19.

The program was funded by Celestica and through Ryerson’s Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

In the first week, Kwok says the goal was to get the kids interested in the technical side of things. They learned how to scratch code, which is putting together pre-assembled code, and how to put it to use.

“What they get to do is they get to play with self-driving cars. So you put a few blocks together, and then you say ‘play,’ and then the car would drive the way that you tell it to,” Kwok said. “So we allowed them to play with that kind of technology to show them that coding is not scary, it’s actually easy. It’s doable.”

In the next couple weeks, they were tasked with building their own code to create a website, learning how to connect Arduinos to create reactions with light and sound.

By week four, the kids are separated in different teams, each tasked with a specific topic they have to work on.

“There was an industrial design team, a web development team, data team, business team, and the idea of that is to get them to really understand that business has so many components, so to succeed, they actually have to work together,” Kwok said.

Week five, they pitch their favourite idea for a product and vote on what they want to be working on in the coming weeks.

Weeks six through 12, Kwok says, is spent “just hacking away at it.”

“They figure out what they want to do, how they want to build it, and they bring in our expertise and mentorship. That’s prototyping,” said Kwok.

During the final week, the teams pitch their ideas to a group including representatives from Ryerson’s DMZ, the City of Toronto, Celestica and the non-profit STEAMLabs. Though there isn’t any cash prize, the organizations offer additional resources, mentorship and time to work on the products and startups they’re interested in.

Every organization in the group picked up one startup, HydraHomes. Their product tracks how much water we consume daily by tracking the flow in our home’s water pipes, and relaying the info back to their app.

EasyPark, another startup from the first program that lets you plan a trip around where to park and how far to get there, was also picked up by everyone.

“If they’re able to understand how technology works, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for them.”

Kwok says that he didn’t realize how important learning how to code was until later on in his studies, but that it’s necessary for the kids and teens to have the tools to create their ideas.

“If they’re able to understand how technology works, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for them. I think that’s what’s exciting for these kids, to really understand at a young age,” Kwok said.

In the future, Kwok said they want to add fashion technology and wearables to their curriculum to make the program more accessible to girls, as well as to encourage more boys to get into fashion.

ZerotoStartup already have about 15 kids signed up for their February to May program, according to Kwok. He says that this time around, they plan to run a smaller group to allow more communication.

“We’re thinking of running with about 20 kids, so we’re able to sit down and mentor them and guide them. Help make the experience better for them,” Kwok said.

Though ZerotoStartup is getting international requests to license their curriculum, they’re concentrating on attempting to replicate their program locally in Mississauga, and finding people they can trust to teach the content.

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