By Jason Cohen
Children with a passion for robotics and entrepreneurship will soon have an opportunity to learn about both in the same place.
Beginning this fall, Rocket Club is coming to the UWS and will educate kids ages 9 to 14 about robotics and entrepreneurship and help them develop their own tech-based companies. Located at the Yard at 157 Columbus Avenue (67th Street), registration began July 22. As of publication time, almost all of 21 spots have been filled.
The club officially begins in September and there will be seven kids per class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Additionally, two students will be offered free tuition based off a submitted essay on what type of business they want to create.
The organization, which began in February in Hoboken, is the brainchild of realtor and entrepreneur Alex Hodara.
“It is clear that we have something very special here and that’s when we started to look for a second location,” Hodara said.
The next Jeff Bezos
Hodara, who started his own poker chip business at 15 and now runs a company, decided he wanted to merge his love for entrepreneurship with robotics. So he began to research various programs in the tri-state area, but did not find one that encompassed both themes.
“I wanted to invest in something that was related to STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] education,” he explained.
After he failed to find any organization or club that taught kids both subjects, he opted to start his own. The goal was for kids to leave the program with a desire to eventually become the next Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk.
When Hodara launched the course he didn’t know if it would go belly-up or succeed. By the end of June, he knew the juice was worth the squeeze.
There were a total of 30 kids in the program that met once a week for two hours. During the five- month course the kids use kids use gears, axles, Legos, sensors, wheels, motors, controllers and main boards to create projects like watermills, hovercrafts, cars, motorcycles, drones and boats.
“We were hoping the kids would be interested in the entrepreneurship side,” Hodara remarked. “We didn’t really know what to expect.”
Hodara said that the children are all screened before they are accepted. While they were all passionate about robotics, getting them to take the next step of creating a business was a challenge, he added.
World's first robotic lemonade stand
According to Hodara, he and the teachers slowly got to know the kids and implanted the idea that even though they were young, they could start a company.
“It took us a long time for us to get kids to think of their own business,” he commented. “You have to speak their language.”
Some of the startups the kids created include vegan lipstick, frozen sports drinks, indoor robotic basil farm, soft serve ice cream for dogs and the world’s first robotic lemonade stand. The projects were judged by Erin Zaikis, founder, Sundara, Chris Zarou, founder, Visionary Records and Anthony Giordano, founder, Monad World, who were all recipients of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Awards.
“We’re guiding them the whole time, but all of the ideas were 100 percent theirs,” he stressed.
Once Hodara saw how successful it was in Hoboken, he realized it was time to open a second location.
“Our plan is to expand into different pockets of NYC,” Hodara noted.
The club’s three instructors in NYC go to Columbia, NYU and Baruch and all are required to have competed in FIRST Robotics in high school.
Hodara recalled that when he first wanted to start Rocket Club numerous people told him it was a waste of time. He proved them wrong.
“There’s clearly a need for this type of education,” he said. “The parents see the value and the kids really love it.”
Hodara hopes the UWS takes advantage of this unique opportunity and eventually its success can blossom into other parts of the city.
“For everyone in the UWS, our goal is to prove how legit this is,” Hodara said. “We’re just focused on trying to outdo what we did in Hoboken. We’re at inning one or two of a nine inning game.”