May 21, 2013
MakerSquare is the kind of idea that inspires ideas. In its simplest form, it is a 10-week, intensive, full-time, full-stack web development program. But if you talk to cofounder Ravi Parikh about the company, the discussion quickly moves from the simple logistics to wider (borderline philosophical) issues about technology, empowerment, community, and innovation. Even Parikh’s simple explanation of the company – “we’re building people who build things” – leads to an exponential visions of builders building builders that spread like some sort of tech version of Pay It Forward, with Parikh and his cofounders in the role of Haley Joel Osment (if slightly less adorable).
But before we run off into the big picture, we’ll hit the details and a little bit of backstory. Parikh has been an active entrepreneur since his early college days. He has started three companies already (with varying levels of success), and, with each of them, he said his biggest pain point was not knowing how to make his own website. Shaan Shah (one of his cofounders on a different project and now with MakerSquare) went through a program called The Starter League in Chicago that taught him the foundation of coding. For a business mind like Parikh’s, it was a few simple steps to go from “the Starter League sounds like something I need” to “why is there not a program like this here in Austin?” to “let’s build one here” to “how much further can we take it?” Fast forward four months and they’ve already sold out their entire summer class and are in the middle of expanding their offering.
MakerSquare is looking to differentiate itself in a few ways from your typical “learn to code” program. First, it emphasizes real-world application above all else. During the program, they essentially recreate the industry setting you will be working in as a coder. Everything is geared towards the workplace, emphasizing team and project-based learning. Students will come out of the program being able to build live websites and database-backed web apps. Second, MakerSquare has a strong internal focus on the actual teaching aspect of their program – which should seem obvious, but is often overlooked, especially in the tech world. Harsh Patel, one of the cofounders, did a Teach For America fellowship. He has meticulously refined the curriculum to optimize absorption and retention and is training the tech masters who teach the actual coding.
Now back to the big ideas. The vision for MakerSquare isn’t just to be a good tech education course. It is to be a “town center” for the community, and a catalyst for technology across the nation. After 5:00 pm, MakerSquare opens its doors to the community for coworking and continuing education classes. They have partnerships with adjunct professors who come in to teach anything from Heroku deployment to Photoshop, and the public can attend all of it for free. Another community benefit they’re providing is an automatic $2,000 scholarship for women to take their course. They see it as essential for more women to be in technology, one of the historically most male-saturated industries in the world. “Just imagine,” says Parikh, “all the innovation that is lost because there’s not a strong female perspective in technology.”
Parikh doesn’t think he’s going to replace college education anytime soon. He sees MakerSquare as a valuable component of a much larger tech-enablement infrastructure that is self-forming right now. The endgame of this process is anyone’s guess, but most versions of it are exciting. As Parikh put it: “There are so many ideas that die because business brains aren’t able to find someone to build out their ideas. That’s a huge loss to society. There would be so much more innovation if businesspeople, creatives, and others had the tools to develop their ideas on their own.”
Think on that for a while. Get excited. Go sign up for MakerSquare.
MakerSquare was a showcased startup at our Tech Cocktail Austin mixer.
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