Remo Kommnick and Joel Erb are two of the co-founders of TechHatch, a technology incubator that offers passionate students the mentorship and direction needed to launch a technology startup.
In addition to being a co-founder of Techhatch, Remo is the co-founder and business development manager at imprvd, a web design and mobile development firm and product manager at VoiceMirror, a voice analytics startup.
Joel has been an entrepreneur since age 14, when he started his own web design business, INM United. He is a partner in both Spot Trot Music and SalesMirror, and an active member of the Richmond Technology community.
In your own words, what is TechHatch?
Remo and Joel: TechHatch is a hands-on summer technology incubator for high schoolers in Richmond, VA. Our kids take their passion from an idea to a prototype in less than eight weeks. At the end, they present to a panel of business executives, members of the press, and a group of angel investors.
What are your thoughts on the current state of computer science/ tech programs in public schools?
Remo: Richmond Public Schools currently do not offer any computer science classes. However, some schools have technology centers that teach the basics of web design, computer repair and robotics.
Why did you start TechHatch?
Joel: Without having a mentor who believed in me at a young age, I wouldn’t have had the courage to start my business in middle school. Now that I’m in a position to give back, I feel that the greatest gift I can give is knowledge and support to the next generation. TechHatch has been an incredible opportunity to make a lasting impact by helping bring to reality the dreams of those in our program.
What can you expect ability wise at the end of the program from a student who had no previous tech background?
Remo: We assume a basic understanding of how to use computers with our students. Most students do not have any markup or programming experience. By the end of the program, they have built prototypes for a website or a mobile app using what they have learnt from TreeHouse and the hands-on sessions with our mentors.
Can you briefly tell us about a real student success story?
Remo: One of our students came in with very little technology background. He is only 14 but within two weeks, he completed 60 TreeHouse badges. That gave him the base set of skills to develop a mobile web app. Him and his team will launch a magic app that teaches magic tricks specifically to beginners.
What is the most difficult challenge you face as you try to grow the TechHatch program?
Remo: As with any new program, having the right mix of activities, mentors and objectives is crucial to maintaining engagement. However, you never really know what needs to change until the program starts and the students give their feedback. So, up to this point, the biggest challenge has been keeping up with the changes that need to happen for the next class of students.
You are a co-founder of a couple of different projects. What advice do you give to other entrepreneurs and successful business types looking to get involved and give back to their communities?
Remo: Don’t wait to give back until you hit that next big milestone; whether it’s launching your site, signing that big client, or getting that new hire you wanted. If you only make time for two hours a week to mentor a middle or high schooler, the satisfaction you get from seeing them grow and succeed is immeasurable.