Cassie Hodges  | April 24, 2018

Kids Don’t Want to Leave These Entrepreneurs’ Classrooms. Here’s What They Are Doing Different

Kindergarteners who know how to code. Middle-schoolers working with robots and AI. Grade school children conducting hackathons.

These are just some of the scenes you will see at 01, a Miami-based education lab that is empowering students to shape their world through technology.

Free Enterprise met up with the Founders of 01, Willie Avendano and Nelson Milian, to see how they are levelling up education and living out the motto “If you aren’t having fun, you’re not learning:”

What inspired you to go down this path? And what gets you up in the morning?

Willie Avendano: I grew up in Miami and left to study computer science in New York. When I came back to Miami, I tried to find my niche and stumbled into teaching computer science. I would research and ask myself “how can I create projects that are crazy while still giving back to my community?”

So I thought I could create a summer camp to give young students a space to experiment with robotics, 3D design and printing, and the like – I want young learners to build crazy skills.

I get up in the morning because I love going to the schools and seeing the kids learn something new every day. We are there with them, seeing them get excited with what they are creating. There is a strong sense of engagement, and it is heartwarming. We get bombarded with hugs, while parents tell me that it is hard to convenience their children to leave the classroom because they are having so much fun. I wanted to give back to my hometown, and there was a need for a camp like that.

Nelson Milian: I’ve always been a lifelong learner. I would be obsessed with researching on the internet, and I became a very good gamer. I built my first website at a young age, and I would teach myself how to build things from watching tutorials online.

I went to school for management information systems and later started my own businesses. As an entrepreneur, I have certainly seen failures, but that doesn’t mean you stop. A failure is just a failure – you can get right back up. A failure is just the world saying “not this direction, go a different way.”

01 is my fourth business venture, and we are loving it. I truly love working with Willie. We know we can do something different with this company, and we are really making a difference.

What’s been the hardest part of the entrepreneurial process? And how do you overcome the challenges?

Willie Avendano: Not having money in the bank account. I took odd jobs to get capital. Once we had the money and were able to launch, we have seen some pretty amazing things happen. I’m talking about grade school kids being able to build a virtual reality games and then play the games they created.

Nelson Milian: You overcome the challenges because you know what you are doing is creating a brighter future for students, for our community, and you are having fun along the way! We have even enjoyed setting up our space in Miami. We put microchips on the walls to make a mural – so we are literally planting technology with new life. We like to take pieces of technology that may not have use anymore and repurpose it.

How do you define or measure success?

Willie Avendano: Each day we are training the students to think outside the box. We are giving them exposure to develop innovatively, and then they’re creating a pathway that will eventually give them access to new technologies – some that we may not even be using yet. I call it a successful day if these kids don’t want to leave the lab because they are learning but having so much fun through the process.

Nelson Milian: Honestly, sometimes these kids are dangerously close to being smarter than me. They are teaching us sometimes. We actually recently had our first hire, and he was a student! He helped us teach after he was student of our camp, and now he is going to Cornell and developing his own app. That is a great success story. We want kids to learn about leadership and empower them to teach – you learn better when you have to teach something to someone else.

How are you solving problems and being an innovative force in the Miami area and beyond? 

Willie Avendano: Through our summer camp, we are providing children and students the ability to be on the forefront of the current and emerging technology to solve problems. If they know how to use technology, they can give back and solve problems locally, and this will create a cycle using new skills “for good.” If there are more people in Miami with our passions, we will make it a better community.

Nelson Milian: We are also asking the question “How do we bring about ideas that seem too futuristic and intangible to reality to actually use them?” We take hard-to-imagine concepts such as kindergarteners using AI and make it a reality. Now these kids are makers, doers, and they are the creators of tomorrow.

What advice do you have for other potential business owners, or those thinking about pursuing their dreams?

Nelson Milian: It is imperative to get a good team. A strong team is critical. I have a strong cofounder in Willie. We have strong collaboration, the same vision, same goals, and we are problem solvers. You need to have a team of strong motivators, because it’s a difficult process starting a business!

What can we expect in the future of technology in your space?

Willie Avendano: I could see how gene hacking might be big soon. It’s bubbling right now – the whole scene of bio tech is really coming a hot item.

Nelson Milian: I think you will start seeing gaming and e-sports categorized as an expression of athleticism. People now have teams and leagues for these activities, and I think some will start calling them a sport. The players are creating an environment for team development skills, competition, learning how to brand yourself, and learning how to find your own voice.

What is your favorite pump-up song right now: Eye of the Tiger, by Survivor

What is your favorite app that you are using right now: Instagram and Medium