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Moms start tech camp for kids in historic Ybor City home

TAMPA — Children play video games and cellphone apps but often know little about how they were created. Two working moms are hoping to fill this void with a new technology camp.

The camp, called Gr8code, starts next month and runs through August. It is open to children ages 8 to 13, and allows them to choose from four tracks of learning: create an app, design a game, shoot a short digital film or create a website.

"I wanted my kids to be more than just tech consumers," said Virginia Barnett, a camp founder. "I wanted them to be technology makers as well."

For the first part of each day, the children will learn design and code. Organizers said this involves a lot of problem-solving, so they start out with a mind-bender. In the second half, they will be taught business fundamentals and how to pitch their startup ideas.

Campers will have the opportunity to pitch their projects at the first Startup Weekend Youth in Tampa on Sept. 26, a younger version of Startup Weekend Tampa Bay for all ages, where the tech community looks for the next big idea and how to move it forward.

Though Startup Weekend Tampa Bay is open to entrepreneurs of all ages, a team led by 14-year-old Nathan Eyal won last year for Live Warfare, which is a virtual paintball app.

"When they come to Startup Weekend Youth, they're going to think about the ideas they learned at camp and learn from them and pitch those ideas, so it's pretty much the perfect partnership," said Susie Steiner, who facilitates and coordinates Startup Weekend.

Steiner added that it won't be as harsh as the Shark Tank reality TV show on entrepreneurs.

"We're not just picking the great one and shooting the other ones down," she said. "We're trying to encourage everyone to pursue entrepreneurship and whatever application that is we're very supportive of that."

Though the camp focuses on developing technology, it will take place in a historic 100-year-old Ybor City bungalow, a relic of bygone era. The original owners of the home never lived to see this new technology emerge.

"So it represents a slice of life that just doesn't exist anymore, with chickens and ducks in the back yard," said Del Acosta, grandson of the original homeowners and former manager of Tampa's Preservation Commission. "I think it's good that the house still exists, and it's still being used."

Barnett, a mother of two girls who spent 15 years in business operations and management, said that although things have come a long way even from the 1980s as far as women taking interest and pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math, the gap is still too wide.

"I still think we have ways to go in encouraging girls to be in the STEM area, and me personally, I want to put my money where my mouth is and do something about it," she said.

She founded the camp with the assistance of another working parent, Phuong Cotey, a mother of two boys and former reporter at the Tampa Bay Times.

Both moms said that they were inspired by their children's curiosity about technology and a need for them to get involved in technology for the 21st century. They also both work at the Florida Next Foundation, a nonprofit that works to empower young people, entrepreneurs and small businesses so they can drive innovation to enhance Florida's economy and quality of life, and they saw a need in the marketplace.

As working moms, they understand that sometimes conference calls run late, so they decided not to charge extra for after care.

"We have built this camp to be the program that we want for our own children," Barnett said.

Robyn Spoto, co-founder and president of MamaBear, a mobile app that allows parents to monitor as much or as little of their children's mobile phone as needed from texts to social media, has been an early supporter of Gr8code, according to Barnett and Cotey.

So has David Chitester, entrepreneur and founder of Florida Funders, which connects startups with capital. "I met with Virginia and Phuong at their new facility and was really impressed with the concept. And I don't even have children to send to a summer camp," he said. "I think they have recognized a need and are working to provide a service to meet it. That is what entrepreneurship is all about and it is great to see it evolve right here in Tampa Bay."

For more information on the tech camp, visit

Moms start tech camp for kids in historic Ybor City home 05/14/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 12:20pm]
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