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Meet Omowale Casselle and Arjun Venkataswamy of Digital Adventures in Lincoln Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Omowale Casselle and Arjun Venkataswamy.

Digital Adventures was initially started for 2 key reasons: Omowale was having a difficult time finding qualified engineers for his Director, Product Management role at a new startup within, Redbox & as a formally-trained engineer, he felt that his kids were not learning how to create content on their technology-devices. Instead, they were simply consuming the content. So, he envisioned a concept that he would help prepare the next generation to develop the 21st century computer coding and engineering design skills that are key to solving really difficult problems and making an impact in our digitally-driven world.

Following the initial vision, Omowale created a rough group of lessons in Scratch (visual based language developed at MIT) to take his kids through. He posted a picture of the lesson on Facebook and that’s when friends around the country commented, “I wish there was something like this where we live!”.

Given his retail background from his experience at Redbox along with his education (BS/MS Mechanical Engineering + MBA), he thought the best approach would be to start stand-alone retail locations integrated into communities around the country that would be an essential 3rd place (home, school, and Digital Adventures – sandbox for learning technology) for kids.

About a year after founding, Omowale realized that he would need a formally trained educator to help grow the business. A mutual friend, Jimmy Odom (co-founder, WeDeliver), introduced him to Arjun (BS Engineering, MS Education) and they decided to partner to take the concept to the next level.

Since getting started in the Spring of 2015, Digital Adventures has grown to 2 locations, completed thousands of hours of technology projects with hundreds of kids & is planning to ultimately add several more locations around the Greater Chicago area in the next 12-18 months.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As a retail business, we have faced challenges with getting proper permitting/zoning in the areas we’d like to locate. We prefer 1st floor locations that are highly visible and integrate into the surrounding communities. For our Lincoln Park location, we had identified the location and were all ready to sign the lease. Unfortunately, the Campaign to Elect Hillary Clinton also fancied the site. So, we had to wait until the Presidential election was completed and they vacated the space before we could lease it. In the meantime, we setup a pop-up site at a Chicago Park District building near the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Another challenge is that the rationale is not yet well established for why kids should learn to code. For after-school activities like sports or tutoring, there is a high level of social proof that accompanies participation in these activities. Through our social media reviews (5 Star Facebook & 5 Star Yelp) along with high level of customer referrals, we have been able to demonstrate that there is a high level of value for computer coding & engineering design classes for kids.

Please tell us about Digital Adventures.
Digital Adventures utilizes a learn by doing approach to instruction. Our team teaches kids how to construct robots, model structures in 3D, build mobile applications and websites, create virtual reality worlds, design video games, hack Minecraft and make movies.

We specialize in working with hardware and software from industry leading companies like Lego, Microsoft, Google to create projects that facilitate accidental (incidental) learning on a wide variety of projects that are unlike anything kids can build anywhere else.

Accidental (or Incidental) learning, is a phrase coined by cognitive scientist and learning theorist Roger Schank and refers to the everyday learning that takes place in all of our lives. For example, an international traveler might need to figure out how to get from the airport to her hotel. Through the process of solving this transportation problem, she would also learn how the city’s subway system is structured and a few basic phrases in a new language. The traveler didn’t set out with an explicit goal to learn about the city’s subway system or a new language, that learning just happened accidentally along the way.

The engineering, product development, and educational background of the team creates a philosophy and educational approach that is focused on developing technology independence and confidence in creating anything their minds can dream up. We believe that kids have an unlimited potential and ability to change the world and we see ourselves as having a tremendous responsibility to guide their development so that they can solve really difficult problems when they grow up.

We are very proud that parents and kids enjoy our instruction (5 Star Reviews – Facebook, 5 Star Reviews on Yelp). They also reward us with repeat business and referrals which is the greatest honor that any customer can give to a company.

Also, we are proud that we have bootstrapped this company to profitability from the very beginning by investing our own money in the belief that we could educate the next generation of inventors and innovators.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
My favorite memory from childhood is taking apart electronics. I would take apart VCR’s, camcorders & remote control cars because I was so curious to understand how they worked. My parents would never get upset when I couldn’t put things back together. Instead, I was encouraged to explore and understand the technology-enabled world around. One of the big reasons why Digital Adventures exists is to enable the current generation to have a digital sandbox in which they can learn, develop and explore.

Pricing:

  • After school classes | $119-$199/month (subscription)
  • Seasonal Camps (Summer, Spring, Winter, Fall) / Day Off Camps | $125/single half day, $500/half day, full week, $179/single full day, $750 full day, full week
  • Birthday Party | $399 – 2 hours (up to 8 kids)

Contact Info:


Image Credit:
Arjun Venkataswamy
Omowale Casselle

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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