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Startup Stories: MasKodigo, An Academy for Future Panamanian Entrepreneurs

Startup Stories: MasKodigo, An Academy for Future Panamanian Entrepreneurs

Posted by Miguel Ernesto on November 17, 2016

Our startup stories are now focused on MasKodigo, a programming academy for children in Panama. PanamericanWorld talked to Rita Ortiz, the executive director, who shared details related to the history, goals and next steps of this startup. Moreover, she offered tips for other entrepreneurs.

When was MasKodigo founded? What were its objectives?

Jaime Blanco, founder of MasKodigo, was the Chairman of the Board of Directors in the Panamanian Chamber of Information Technologies, Innovation and Communications (CAPATEC is the Spanish acronym) and he has been involved in the development of the technological sector in Latin America for over 20 years. This career has helped him realize that some countries, such as Finland and Singapore, have experienced a significant jump in their economic development within a relatively short time because they decided to invest in education and innovation.

That’s why, in MasKodigo we believe that we have the same opportunity in Panama and we can strengthen our position as a Digital Hub with international scope. But we have an important challenge to face: the interest on studies related to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is going down. Without the quantity and quality of human capital we won’t be able to create a country economic model based on innovation. That’s the reason why MasKodigo was opened on November 17, the First Programming Academy for children in Panama, where we teach children and teenagers how to program and develop startups.

How does this startup work?

We provide an educational experience that helps children develop a computing way of thinking and programming skills in a fun, creative and non-traditional environment. An innovative visual and interactive platform easily introduces them into the programming world and gives them tools to create and innovate. They are given customized instructions and a range of entertaining activities, tutorials and games.

We teach children the main concepts of computing sciences by means of logical figures that show JavaScript “in the background”, so they don’t have to understand a complex programming syntax.

There are no teachers or mentors in the classrooms, there is no blackboard. The main interaction is carried out with a technological platform that emulates a tutor. The teaching methodology allows every child to go to the next level according to her/his ability. We hold a record of their improvement by using automated tools.

The other pillar of this avant-garde education model is the fact that children are taught the skills they need to become entrepreneurs. Leadership, innovation, critical thought, values, the importance of contact networks, among others, are the concepts they learn. This task is carried out by specialists in the fields of Psychology, Engineering.

Our 9-month Academic Program is continuous. It was designed by following successful models implemented in the United States and Europe. Moreover, it is multi-annual, so every year the children are closer to becoming a Professional Programmer. We are working to give parents and the society professionals that have been trained since early ages.

What’s different in your proposal?

We offer a 21st-century education method, a non-traditional avant-garde model, since learning how to program opens a whole universe of opportunities. iPhone®, iPad®, Android ™ OS, Facebook®, Google Maps, computers, robots, all of them require software applications to work. The programming or “coding”, and knowing how to solve problems, are some of the main skills in the digital age. Recent studies show that job positions related to information technologies will face an impressively high demand within the next 10 years, and they are included in the “best qualified industry” category.

There are other collateral benefits, beyond learning programming skills, such as the improvement of the students’ performance in other matters and the way children trust in themselves. Steve Job, founder of Apple, said: “Everybody should learn how to program a computer… since that teaches you how to think."

What have been the most important results?

MasKodigo follows a model of social responsibility and we are connected to a world educational movement called "The Code Hour", so every month we give an hour of lessons for free in public and private schools. With this initiative, we foster the contact between children and the code creation field, so they gain an authentic culture of technological development, which allows them to become actors of science and technology applied to the solution of problems in their life and society. This is an open initiative for children (ages 7 to 14) who want to learn programming skills, so this seed will flower into a better future.

We also work with private companies and business circles to give these courses to the children of their collaborators, inspire them and show them the huge opportunity they will have if they devote their professional life to computer sciences. The companies also perceive this action as a positive movement, since these children are the qualified workforce they will need in the near future, a reality that encourages the fidelity of the present collaborators.

How do you feel the enterprising ecosystem in Panama?

Panama’s enterprising ecosystem needs more innovation, “Growth by Inspiration”, which is related to the effort of a country that tries to fund new ideas, qualified human capital and scientific-technological infrastructure. The “Growth by Inspiration” is connected to the effort of a society to introduce and develop knowledge, thus generating innovation. Panama, as well as most of the countries in the region, is reporting low expenses in terms of Research and Development (I+D).

“We have low expenses in terms of I+D and the participation of the private world in the funding and making of scientific and technological activities is also slender”.

Since innovation is a process of “high uncertainty” and it is based on knowledge, “there are no incentives for private interests to invest on knowledge-generating activities”.

“An active participation of the State” is required in knowledge-generating activities, in scientific and technological fields. We do know that investing on innovation is profitable. Except for those companies with low productivity levels, for the rest of enterprises is highly profitable to invest on innovation in terms of productivity.

Although Panama is behind in this sphere, the country needs to bet its smart money on Research and Development (I+D), which has been achieved by other nations.

What tips would you share with other startups?

We say that it is never too early or late to begin. In MasKodigo we have an optimistic view of what we can be as a country.

We strongly believe that, when it comes to having a sustainable development strategy in time, a country must invest and put its smart money on science, technology and innovation. In this sense, we underscore that, in order to obtain economic development, it is necessary to have a society that believes in the potential of scientific and technological aspects, which entails an economy based on knowledge. Today’s developed countries have invested on knowledge, science, technology and innovation. For elements to be new and innovative, they have to meet two aspects: they must be technically feasible, and second, they must be useful, generate value to those using them.

There is solid evidence that proves that innovation is a source of growth and profits, which entails competitiveness.

“In a world of high competitiveness and complexity, innovation and science are key elements to generate competitive advantages”.


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