by Sarah Sleiman, CEO of Code the Future
Entering my freshman year at North Brunswick Township High, I joined my high school’s robotics team, FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Team 25, Raider Robotix, where students learned science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) while competing in a robotics competition. I went to the first meeting of the year and I was instantly hooked. I loved the challenge and the competition. I was fueled by my competitiveness. There was a lot to do - I went to work.
I was one of the leaders of the team. Although not a builder or programmer, I was the face of the team. At competitions, I presented to judges, ran our public relations team, and was head of our fundraising team. We had to fundraise $60,000 a year to cover our expenses for the team.
In 2012, my team won the FIRST Robotics World Championships. As a result, my team and I represented FIRST by opening the 2013 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with a confetti shooting robot. We also had a booth at a local community festival where younger students drove our robot to raise awareness about our team. Their parents would tell us, “I know we have an awesome high school robotics program, but what about the middle and elementary schools?” I told them they could start their own robotics team, but the parents did not have the knowledge, time, or resources to run a robotics team.
That’s when the gears in my head started turning.
I started looking into programs for the elementary schools in my school district but none of them fit my district’s needs. Many were too expensive, required travel, or required the schools to figure out a lot of logistics on their own. Schools would have been overwhelmed and chose to avoid it.
I had an idea of running a customized STEM camp, where I would supply the materials and talent needed to run the program. I would also run a local robotics competition. I worked on this program with Mr. Jason Lester, the former Assistant Principal of North Brunswick High and current Principal of Piscataway High, who helped navigate the Board of Education to get the program approved and materials ordered.
Running the Competition
I recruited and trained high school robotics students and created a competition. I ran the program as an after school program for kids with four elementary schools which include Parsons, Livingston Park, Judd, and John Adams. We had a total of 80 students, 10 students per team, so 2 teams per school. Our students ranged from grades 3 to 5, with about 200 students on the waitlist.
The program was a huge success. The parents were so happy, the students loved it, and the school administrators wanted double the amount of teams the following years. Most importantly, I loved running it. I wanted to make this my career.
Business Plan Competition
I graduated North Brunswick high school and started my freshman year at The College of New Jersey. I took a class on social entrepreneurship and had a great relationship with my professor, Morton Winston. I told him about my experience and business idea and that I didn’t know where to start. He told me to enter the Mayo Business Plan Competition — since I need seed funding and a business plan. I recruited a strong team of individuals with diverse backgrounds and we got to work.
My team and I took 3rd place and $6,000 as an all-freshman team. After that, we officially registered the business, wrote curriculum, and focused on developing the business. Soon after, we closed our first contract with the Tewksbury Education Foundation (TEF) to run a coding camp for kids with the wonderful 6th graders at Old Turnpike School. The program went wonderfully, and the TEF is bringing us back for 2 programs this January of 2019. After Tewksbury, we gained another amazing co-founder and current CTO, Pulkit Gupta.
Where We Are Now
Fast forward to December of 2018. Code the Future has run several programs at schools and camps during the weekends. We have just hired our first Account Executive, Joe Sanchez. We are currently developing exciting robotics programs (robot building, gaming camps, drones) for kids in grades 2 through 8 and plan on expanding.
I would like to thank my many personal mentors, who have selflessly helped my team and I through many challenges and got us to where we are today. My thanks to Mr. Jason Lester for being my coach, motivator, and role model who was crucial in starting this whole thing in the first place, Dr. Jonathan Ponds for motivating me during the rough times and endless support, Lorraine Allen for spending countless hours reviewing our business plan and staying up until 2am to help us perfect our pitch, Carla Fallone for giving me the final push to jump into this and for business advice, and the Uncommon Individual Foundation for teaching us how to set goals and providing the support so we can achieve them.
This has been an amazing journey and I can’t wait to see where we go next.
Follow Code the Future on our continued journey here: