Jeffrey Chen (11) and Rohan Bhatia (11) kickstart computer science company

Bradley Bennett, Staff Writer

Last summer, Rohan Bhatia (11) and Jeffrey Chen (11) took their passion for technology beyond the classroom and started a computer science business called Project Syntax, which acts as a service that enables young children to learn computer science.

The project began as a link between programmers and corporate sponsorships, Bhatia said. The company would connect sponsors to kids who wanted to start hackathons, events in which a group of young programmers work together to build something that involves technology.

The connection between the programmers and sponsors is often hard to establish, which prompted Jeffrey and Rohan to take advantage of the relationship and make a profit.

“Sometimes [the sponsors] were donating $2500 to hackathons, so we decided to connect the hackathon to the sponsor,” Bhatia said.

“Jeffrey and Rohan’s idea for their business was an extension of a project they did in my Computer Science II class,” Computer Science and Robotics Department Chair Danah Screen said.

For their school project, the pair designed a tech company, and after developing a passion for the topic looked for a summer opportunity to build on their idea and start their business, she said.

“It’s the goal of every teacher for what we did in our classroom to go beyond the classroom at some point,” Screen said. “I was incredibly excited when they told me they would try to take their idea to the next level.”

Some of the sponsors Bhatia and Chen worked with included Microsoft, Google, and Linkedin, and the pair travelled to San Francisco, Chicago, and Toronto to promote their business and pitch their idea to companies.

“In the beginning we were taking about four to five percent of what the companies would donate or give to the hackathon as a fee for connecting them [to programmers], and the money would pile up,” Bhatia said. “But once we connected people, they didn’t need us anymore. So there were limited revenue streams remaining.”

When Bhatia and Chen spoke with companies, they were advised to change their business model so as to not function as the “middleman,” Bhatia said.

“As a team, we restructured our website, our money flow, and changed our business model canvas and went through that transition period, speaking to new people and using our connections,” he said.

The business switched to a different model with the new goal of giving teachers from universities all around the world the opportunity to participate in teaching kids about computer science. The model is based on a curriculum from Major League Hacking, one of the largest computer science education programs in the world, Bhatia said.

Although the team paid the teachers $20 an hour for their involvement, they earned revenue from payments from students, Bhatia said.

“The biggest thing that we took away from the project was how this process works and how Horace Mann kids are set up to succeed in real world situations based on the skills they’re taught in their classes,” Bhatia said.

Bhatia felt the pair had an advantage in speaking and communicating with partners and clients as well as overcoming problems due to the skills they learned at the school, he said.

“The most profitable thing for us was the real life business experience and getting to work with real people in the industry,” Chen said.