Kidpreneuer Teaches Kids How to Code, and How to Fail

Thanh Tran is a serial entrepreneur. From 2006 until 2012, he launched two software companies. When his business partner decided to move to San Francisco, Tran chose to stay in the Detroit area with his family and began working on his concept for Kidpreneur.
Kidpreneur launched in September 2013 with the goal of teaching kids computer programming, but it wasn’t long before Tran’s vision for the educational company expanded. “When I had the opportunity to think more of what [Kidpreneur] should be, [I knew there was an important part of technology  missing in children’s education], but technology comes and goes. I wanted to provide a means to an end – the entrepreneurship piece.”
Kidpreneur teaches kids ages five to 14 about entrepreneurship and technology, and that technology can be 3D printing, coding, Minecraft, video production, robotics, game design, or web design. There are a few different technology tracks, and entrepreneurship skills are incorporated into each track.
There are classes, camps, and workshops, each offering educational programming of varying duration. “A lot of places offer summer camps, but after summer where do the students go? That’s where we come in,” Tran says.
Kids can start with the summer camps, then if they want to do a “deep dive” into technology they can go through the classes. “There are kids who are not athletes or musicians or artists. We’re bringing in a different demographic, and that’s the goal.”
Kids can attend extended ongoing classes at 100-, 200-, and 300-levels for as long as 30 months and learn the technology they want to learn. “It’s like learning an instrument,” says Tran. “Kids pick an instrument they want to play and come in and keep learning it. Technology is the same. It evolves and changes all the time.”  
Tran says Kidpreneur focuses on kids who love technology, but also teaches them valuable entrepreneurship skills from an early age – including how to fail.
“If we get 10 kids in a class, after that year half of them will continue [on to the next class], and after that half will go on to careers in entrepreneurship,” Tran says. “We want them to learn how to fail. Right now they live in their house under their parents. Failure is a huge part of [entrepreneurship] … With your first startup you have a 99 percent chance that you’ll fail to make a living off of it. By your third startup, you have a 50 percent chance. We hope kids continue on and once they get to high school they might have an idea to get invested. We want to give kids that opportunity.”
He says the most influential and successful entrepreneurs were exposed to computer programming at a very young age, yet coding is not even offered in high school. “We start in middle school – that’s the age when they’re sponges. They want to learn and they’re native to technology. We’re creating creators.”
When Kidpreneur launched, there were 10 kids involved in the first three-month program. Tran worked with the Novi and Northville public libraries for the pilot programs and they offered workshops in computer programming, robotics, and Minecraft design. In December 2013, Kidpreneur was awarded a free pop-up space for two months through D:Hive’s Pilot pop-up retail space program in downtown Detroit.
Over the last two years Kidpreneur has grown continuously, increasing the number of classes, workshops, and camps, and expanding its curriculum. Kids can attend summer camps as well as year-round workshops and 12-week courses. At the end of 2014, over 800 kids have gone through a program at Kidpreneur, logging over 3,000 construction hours, with 70 kids going through a program every single week. Tran plans to double these numbers in 2015, as well as doubling the number of classes and camps offered.
Kidpreneur recently moved into a new office in Wixom, a location Tran says is convenient to a range of cities from East Lansing to Oxford to Grosse Pointe. “Having a place in Detroit gave us a chance to do market research,” he says. “If parents really want their kids to learn this [material] they’ll drive.”
There are other options outside of Wixom, however. This month Kidpreneur started offering after-school programs at Detroit Country Day and Center Line Public Schools and through DAPCEP on weekends, and they have also increased their number of library accounts from two to eight. They also work with a number of different schools, nonprofits, and other organizations, including the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s SmartZone and Automation Alley in Troy.
Tran has grown Kidpreneur from three instructors (including himself) to seven instructors and a full-time marketing specialist in addition to himself, and he has done it all by his bootstraps. “I never put a dime into it,” he says. “I had a loss on both of my previous companies. Now I have a 50 percent chance of being successful and I decided let’s just see if people enroll. [Kidpreneur has] always been in the green.”
For him personally, his own experiences working as an entrepreneur helped shape the direction of Kidpreneur, and drives him to teach kids the realities of failure. “I wasn’t successful in my first two [ventures] and that’s how Kidpreneur teaches them,” he says. “It introduces them to entrepreneurship at an early age. My parents never wanted me to be an entrepreneur; they were very old school and traditional. A lot of parents didn’t want that initially; now it’s much easier to do and there are more resources. I think we can find the next Mark Zuckerberg right here in our backyard.”