Ted Jordan’s Funutation Tekademy
“Fun” is the key word in these hands-on computer camps, where engineer-turned-teacher Ted Jordan provides kids with tools for a
By Christine Heinrichs
Senior Contributing Editor
Ted Jordan was working on home-based computer security in 2003 when his client, a mother, asked him whether he could teach kids to make video games. “A light went on over my head,” he remembers, and he decided to offer a computer camp through the local recreation department. Ten years later, Funutation Tekademy LLC (funutation.com, Beachwood, OH) has taught more than 4,000 kids software and computer skills.
“Parents see that kids can succeed in software, not just as doctors or lawyers,” he says. “They can work for a great company or start a business of their own. Kids who know software will have a future no matter what.”
Technology for fun
Fun is the theme at the camps: no tests, no homework, no sitting down at desks. In fact, no desks. It’s all hands-on for kids aged eight to fifteen who build robots or create their own iPhone apps. They work in teams to solve tech problems. As they design their own 2-D and 3-D games, they learn computer skills and build relationships with their peers. “It makes it a fun, enjoyable experience for them,” he says.
Jordan keeps the camps close to home, within a half hour’s drive for busy parents, and has also added some online activities to the offerings. He surveys his students’ parents to tailor programs to what they want for their kids.
He test-markets ideas by posting pilot projects on line to see whether enough people respond. He tries out new ideas in a couple of markets as beta classes before committing major resources to them.
“I learned the hard way in business not to jump all the way in at the beginning,” he says. “The other lesson I learned was to test as much as possible. Before you invest that $100,000, find a way to test it out for a thousand. If your first try is successful, you'll feel more comfortable making the big investment.”
He relies on parks and recreation and community education departments to attract students. By partnering with established organizations, he reaches parents and children. Camp costs are reasonable, higher than for traditional parks and recreation camp activities but lower than many other computer camps. For $250, kids attend a half day for five days. The fee is $500 for full days.
From Funutation’s start in Ohio, it has expanded to fifty locations in ten states. Jordan hopes to double that to 100 locations in 2013.
A start in engineering
Born and raised in Detroit, Jordan earned his BSME from Kettering University (Flint, MI), formerly General Motors Institute, in 1983. He went directly into a graduate program at the University of California (Berkeley, CA), where he earned his MSME in 1985. He got married and followed his wife to Cleveland, Ohio, where she was pursuing a PhD in organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve University. He worked at various high-tech companies, including GM and Sun Microsystems, but his entrepreneurial itch made him look for ways to start his own company.
In the coming year, he’ll move his family from Ohio to Massachusetts, where his wife has already moved to take a new job, along with his sixteen-year-old daughter. Jordan and his eighteen-year-old son will join them after high school graduation in June.
Teaching and entertaining
Although Jordan’s academic background is engineering, his mother was a teacher and his sister became a teacher. He tutored math in high school and taught tennis. He’s energetic and likes to entertain a crowd. He’ll get up and sing karaoke even though he doesn’t take a drink. He likes the Chinese proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. “I enjoy imparting knowledge, watching kids learn,” he says. “There’s a lot of teaching in my background.”
In establishing Funutation Tekademy, he debated whether to create it as a for-profit business or a nonprofit. Following advice he read in the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, he gathered an advisory board and conferred with them. With their input, he chose to make it a profit-making business, on the model of Sylvan Learning, Huntington and Kumon. He’s satisfied with that decision. With the downturn in the economy, grant funding for nonprofits has declined and many are struggling.
His other decision was whether to target African Americans or the general public. He aims for the public at large, rather than a limited market. “Their advice was sage,” he says. “It’s better to run a camp for people rather than for a specific community. Don’t limit yourself if you don’t have to.”
Diversity and the missing demographic
Jordan is mindful of the need to include diversity in Funutation camps. He tracks ethnic and gender participation. About 40 percent of students are Anglo, 20 percent Asian, 10 percent Hispanic, 20 percent Eastern Indian and 10 percent African American. Gender is the stumbling block: nearly all the students are boys. When a girl does enroll, he encourages the instructor to pay extra attention to her. “We want to make sure she has a good experience,” he says.
Attracting girls has proven a real challenge. He’s even contacted competitors, but they aren’t doing any better. Some girls-only camps in the nonprofit world have succeeded, but that hasn’t generalized to other camps. He tried holding a Robot Fashion Show and a session on making a dress for a robot. When one group of four girls signed up for a robotics event, he hoped they would open the door to more. It turned out only one of the girls was really interested. The other three came along to help her out and “meet cute guys.”
He’s found that attitudes are a hurdle, even in his own neighborhood. One neighbor mentioned that he had sent his daughter to computer camp. Another, a woman who herself works in computers, remarked, “‘Who sends their daughter to computer camp?’” he says. “She made it sound like something you don’t do.”
Jordan has seen many of the kids who passed through Funutation Tekademy go on to formal education in engineering. They now work at high-profile companies including Mozilla, Google, Microsoft and Apple. One became an entrepreneur and started his own business, applying to Quicken Loans for a grant. One of the twenty kids in that first camp now works for Funutation, writing the camp’s software applications. All camp software is written by Jordan and his staff.
College students twenty years old and older can work for Funutation during the summer. He’s looking for sharp computer camp leaders in the Washington, DC metro area, in the Cleveland area and in Massachusetts. It’s all about liking kids, enjoying technology and having fun, he says. Being an extrovert helps. Send resumes to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s not a career job, but it’s a chance to learn the business: entrepreneurship, marketing, and even the financial side.
“Funutation has helped create some exciting careers,” he says. “People see the value of computers and want to be like Steve Jobs.”
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