UW startups shine

LightBot is an app that helps kids learn computer programming (Photo by Will Huang).
LightBot is an app that helps kids learn computer programming (Photo by Will Huang).

To teach computer-programming to kids may sound like an impossible challenge, but that’s exactly what Danny Yaroslavski set out to do when he began developing his mobile app, LightBot, back in high school.

LightBot is now one of 35 startups that will be occupying the University of Waterloo’s Velocity Garage workspace at the Communitech Hub in Kitchener this term.

Through a series of challenging puzzles and by using step-by-step instructions, the app aims to teach computer-programming basics in a relaxed, unintimidating and educational way.

“I first created LightBot in high school, and back then it was just a fun idea. After I released the game, I heard back from teachers that were using the game in class to teach programming concepts. I realized that programming was a trend, and I hopped on it,” said Yaroslavski, who is currently studying computer science student at the University of Waterloo.

Once he realized the application he created had more potential than just a fun game, he quickly started to pursue entrepreneurship. He sought out resources, offered by the University of Waterloo, to learn about business and to move LightBot from being a game idea, to a viable business venture.

“I think it really clicked that this could be a business about a year ago. I started attending Velocity workshops at Waterloo, to learn about business, which any student can go to,” he said.

Yaroslavski then decided to apply for the Velocity Fund, a $25,000 grant given by the University of Waterloo to young entrepreneurs with viable business ideas.

However, the process was more than a simple application, as a business plan had to be put together and various pitches had to be made to judges and students.

“We applied for the $25,000, we pitched and we won, allowing us to work here at the [Communitech] Hub around these awesome startups,” said Yaroslavksi.

Recently, LightBot has seen rising success. Code.org, a prominent computer-programming site, picked up the application.

LightBot was also asked to participate in the Hour of Code, an event last December which featured students around the world logging on to Code.org and taking part in tutorials, learning the basics of computer programming.

“ We had over 100,000 users hitting our site everyday, tweeting and liking, and people were so excited about the product,” said Yaroslavski. “It was amazing. These were real people that were really enjoying our product and we hit on something; we actually compete with other ways to teach programming.”

LightBot is looking forward to expanding its horizons in the not-to-distant future, with another game in the works. Yaroslavski wants to be part of the computer-programming curriculum in schools around the world.

“The next goal we have is just developing the next game in the series and maybe having three games packaged together for teachers to use in their classroom.”

On balancing life as both a student and an entrepreneur, Yaroslavski gave this advice: “If you’re in a moment of motivation, you have to take advantage of it. In that little timeframe, I’m putting 100 per cent into what I’m actually interested in. At the end of the day, if I lose ten to 20 per cent on an assignment or exam, but I learned a skill I’m interested in learning, then that’s a win for me.”

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