Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Robert, what is the idea behind your business and how did you come up with it?
The idea behind the business is informal education and my passion for it. When I was in school it was really hard for me to apply what I was learning straight away. Even when I was learning programming it was difficult to see how the next day I would be able to change the world through my code and being such an active person I wanted to see palpable results after my learning process and that was almost never possible and I would find myself using only what other people created without the possibility of doing something myself. In university this happened again and then in my second year I made a promise to myself to change that for the next generation of creatives and a concept arrived: "From consuming to creating" it sounds better in Romanian though "De la consumator la creator" - which is the original motto of my projects in general. So right then in my second year of uni I started my first project trying to teach kids about programming and it was a success, but it was too small in my opinion and I wanted more, I wanted to go national. After a lot of preparation, three months ago, I started the project Punctul IT in three areas of Romania: Bucharest, Targoviste and Buzau. It works as a franchise and I help other young entrepreneurs like me start a location teaching programming to kids and I give them all the resources, support and knowledge I can so kids in their locations can become small tech pros.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
I can say in a way that I was born with a passion for teaching and sharing, as a kid and teen I would volunteer in all sorts of projects and ventures and a lot of them helped me practice my skill share (even though at that time it wasn't much to share), but teaching programming started in 2014 when I had my first job as a teacher, and then in 2016 (in my second year of university) I started my first small business. And at the end of 2018, Punctul IT was born. My team is made up of my Franchise partners and the teachers (or educational ambassadors as we like to call them and us) and together we have a small community dedicated to teaching and creating more resources for kids and teens to learn from.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
I would say, theoretically, I started thinking and preparing myself to own a small business in education in 2014 when I was hired first, I loved what I was doing, but at the same time I was watching my bosses and learnt part of their jobs as I was able to see it from an employee point of view. But in 2016 as I started my own business there has been a very steep learning and developing curve, and still is ever since. So not counting my professional education as computer engineer it took me 5 years to get here.
What was the biggest obstacle?
The biggest obstacle was, not being wise enough when I chose my partners for the first business and careful enough when I signed those contracts and a few to follow. Due to these problems I was held back many times and I was not able to evolve as a person and as a business in the direction I wanted, but all of that made me wiser and more careful.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
I think the biggest achievement so far is the ability to go national with my project, and developing from a small business owner to a small franchise owner and because I started this process of going national I have a lot of opportunities and being able to say that "sky's the limit" for real this time is probably the biggest achievement so far.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in?
I think one of the challenges is staying up to date with the resources. I market my brand as "top of the line", new, modern and always evolving. I work permanently in finding new resources and converting them so that kids would understand the concepts and technologies. So being on top of everything that's new in tech for kids and tech in general is the true challenge. This may not be necessarily the niche's challenge, but it is mine in the niche.
Are you supporter of #WomenInTech movement?
I am a very big supporter of the #WomenInTech, each time I can I organize special STEM events for girls to try to encourage them to get into the STEM field. Also I have been an official partner to the Technovation Challenge in Romania and I also have been an event judge of the same project in 2017. But I guess the fact that Punctul IT welcomes and embraces girls programmers and it gives it's best to teach them about technology and programming is our biggest way of showing solidarity with the WomenInTech projects.
What are your projects you are currently working on?
I am working on a concept of an IoT device designed to help kids learn about programming while making a small difference in nature by simply watering plants. It is a Smart Farming device for kids programmable with blocks. The idea is that they will learn to program the device and also learn the properties of the plants around the house as the device they program will remind them to water the plants considering the sensors in the plant pots. Punctul IT as a community is generally working on every technology that we can get our hands on to adapt it and create lessons for kids with it (such as CoSpaces, UiPath RPA, Unity etc. and starting now with all IoT we can think about).
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all founders and entrepreneurs in IoT out there?
I would ask them to never forget the new generation of tech geniuses that are now learning programming and add small educational features to the technologies they are developing for industries and they will be surprised what a group of passionate kids, teens and their teachers will make of them and eventually they will reap the rewards of hiring a 20 year old with 10 years "work" experience (LOL).
What will be the key trends in the IoT and EdTech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
In the next 5 years, I am not sure what will globally happen, but I can see IoT develop a lot in my niche, in education for kids, and I know that I am doing work for that to happen. I think education is the key to a better world and technology is changing the world so fast. If only those two will become more and more connected we will get to live on such a great planet.
Who are your 3 inspirational people and / or businesses in IoT and EdTech?
The people that inspire me come from a very different field, quite separated from education or technology and in a way is important for me to look at their courage and achievements and apply them in my niche even though they probably would have never known that they could inspire a person in educating kids and teens by doing what they have done. The fist is Mike Horn and he got my attention while doing his Pole to Pole expedition sailing North to South and then walking and kite skiing the SouthPole solo. The second one is Damian Browne and he rowed the Atlantic solo. The third one is Boris Vian, he was a french author and he is my all time favorite writer. Simply put the first two inspire me to be extremely bold and Boris Vian inspires me to be creative and unique in boldness.
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.