Finance Class Develops Business Plan For Penn Stater’s New York City Coding Startup
Penn State alumnus Eli Kariv graduated last May with the intention of becoming an entrepreneur. However, it wasn’t until July that his true vision for his startup, “The Coding Space,” came together. Now, Kariv is collaborating with Professor Greg Pierce and his Finance 301H class to implement a strategic business plan the class will research and create this semester.
While at Penn State, Kariv was the president of InnoBlue, a student organization focused on gathering a “community of artists and hackers, coders and designers, innovators and makers, who want to change the world for the better,” according to its website.
The experience collaborating with other student entrepreneurs helped Kariv assist students learn critical thinking and problem solving skills — a new passion for the entrepreneur. “That passion turned into what became the mission and vision for The Coding Space,” he said.
Kariv and his co-founder Steve Krouse began making The Coding Space a reality in New York City last summer. As stated by the organization’s mission statement, “The Coding Space is an after school program where students develop critical thinking, problem solving, and learning skills by learning to code. We believe these skills will empower the world’s next generation of problem solvers and leaders, and that coding is one of the best mediums to develop these skills. We are passionate about empowering underrepresented groups for success in STEM fields.”
Essentially, The Coding Space provides coding classes to students in New York City ages 6-17 with after-school classes currently held at Regis High School and Macaulay Honors College on the Upper East and West Sides. They’re also working on some classes integrated with regular public education, which they are currently testing with a second-grade class.
By the time public schools were back in session in September, The Coding Space had six students, a statistic that Kariv describes as “a little embarrassing.” In order to make a true impact on the students of New York City, Kariv and Krouse knew that they needed to grow their numbers.
In the fall, Kariv reached out to some of his InnoBlue contacts in order to grow The Coding Space. Victoria Babb, the current vice president of InnoBlue, was immediately on board with the project. Although she still attends Penn State and is closing in on her early graduation with a marketing degree, Babb works for The Coding Space remotely. “Eli was always a mentor for me, so it was a great fit to have him as my boss,” Babb said. “I really believe in what technical education can do and what we can provide for students through our organization.”
Luckily, Kariv was also a member of the Presidential Leadership Academy (PLA) during his time at Penn State. Through PLA, Kariv met Alex McCollom, a sophomore who was taking Professor Pierce’s Finance 301H course during the fall semester.
McCollom and Kariv formally met in the fall when Kariv returned to campus to meet with PLA members, although McCollom was familiar with Kariv’s involvement with InnoBlue and the New Leaf Initiative, another organization focused on aggregating entrepreneurs and innovators, during the year the two shared on campus.
However it wasn’t until their second meeting, when Kariv presented his work with The Coding Space in another one of McCollom’s fall courses, that McCollom recognized Kariv’s organization as a viable project for the Finance 301H course. He described Kariv’s presentation as a sort of light bulb moment, and recalled thinking that The Coding Space “sounded just like the sort of thing we want” for a project. From there, he connected Kariv with Professor Pierce, and the two worked out the details of the collaboration.
After speaking with Kariv directly, Professor Pierce decided that The Coding Space would be a great project to propose to his spring semester Finance 301H students for their semester-long strategic business plan projects. Each semester, Pierce and his students collaborate to find projects that are a mix of local, state, and international companies.
Although they work with many for-profit companies, the course also deals with non-profit organizations, often in a partnership with the College of Engineering and its humanitarian programs. Specifically, it looks for projects that someone could “really pursue after they leave Penn State,” Pierce said.
Past projects include Webstaurant.com, Inc., Uplifting Athletes, Sushi Tokyo, and Lion Menus, which grew exponentially to become OrderUp. Students propose some projects and other Smeal faculty members often refer additional projects to the course. “We’ve never had to go out and really seek anyone,” Pierce said. “[The class] may be the best kept secret at Penn State.”
The first week of class, the Presidents or CEOs of the project companies are required to pitch themselves and their organizations to the students enrolled in the class. With The Coding Space, Kariv is located in New York City, so this created a challenge for the collaboration. To solve this, Victoria Babb, who is still working remotely for The Coding Space from State College, quickly became the primary liaison between the organization and the Finance 301H students. In Kariv’s place, Babb has relayed information between The Coding Space and the course since the beginning of the semester. Students were extremely receptive to Babb’s project pitch, and a team was quickly formed to work on the strategic business plan for The Coding Space.
“In our first meeting, I asked the group why they all chose to work on The Coding Space project,” Babb said. “[Their] answers were incredibly insightful, and [they] were excited to work on a project that has a mission like this. They seem to get why we built the company and why we’re doing this for students.”
Since that first meeting, the Finance 301H group working on The Coding Space has made a huge impact on the operations of the organization. The development of this strategic business plan compelled Kariv to be extremely transparent when speaking to students about the current successes and drawbacks of the company, providing their current budgets and financial standings in order for the students to make income projections spanning the next five years.
“I think people underestimate how helpful students can be to thinking about a business,” Kariv said. “Hearing their ideas can make a huge impact. We spend a lot of time working in the business [day-to-day], and they [are able to] spend time working on the business itself.”
Beginning with the six students that The Coding Space taught in September, its numbers have doubled almost every two weeks. Kariv and his team now lead 12 group classes, adding up to about 125 individual students.
“Every time we meet, the group provides great insights,” Babb said. “You can tell that they’ve come together to be a complete team and really play to their individual strengths. The questions that they ask me are from such different angles; you can tell that they take a holistic approach [to developing the plan]. One of the things that constantly amazes me is how hard they work.”
Professor Greg Pierce’s favorite quote comes from Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” This quote inspires Pierce’s teaching philosophy for Finance 301H, allowing his students to learn by developing business plans that can actually be implemented at the conclusion of the class.
As past Finance 301H student Alex McCollom stated, “There’s no other class out there that’s like this. You start wondering how you’re going to write an 80-page business plan, but you work through it, and suddenly you realize that it’s finished and you did it. What you get out of the class is a real world ability to be confident and do these [business plans]. You will be a phenomenal presenter…by the time [Pierce] is done with you.”
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