Well Beyond Coding: Atlanta Tech Founder Helps Overcome Inequality In K-12 Education

Well Beyond Coding: Atlanta Tech Founder Helps Overcome Inequality In K-12 Education

Teaching school students how to code may just not be enough anymore.

K-12 students enrolled in an Atlanta-based e-learning platform are learning how code, but also to crowdfund, launch and manage their completed tech projects just like real companies.

Stephen Brown is the founder and CEO of STEM Stars, a tech startup in its second year that was designed to teach K-12 students science and technology. His customers are individual parents, schools and school systems. STEM Stars is solving a problem of inequality in education, Brown said in a Moguldom interview:

“The quality of education a child receives is based solely on what area the child lives in. A child in a poor community is not going to get the same education as a child in a wealthy community. STEM Stars allow students to get the exact same education no matter where that child resides. With our platform, there are no barriers to a high-level education.”

The subscription-based company has taken off. It was a finalist in the 2017 Atlanta Startup of the Year Award Best Social Impact Startup category. STEM Stars was recognized among for-profit startups with a social mission that made the biggest impact on the Atlanta community and beyond.

Brown has a 15 year-plus track record in app development, tech product analysis, and startup business mentoring. He has led projects with biometric security firms, the State of Georgia Tax Division, and SunTrust Banks. He has also created educational software and e-learning solutions for some of the largest IT training institutions in the Southeast.

He has founded several new media and e-learning companies including DigiLyfe, Nubby, & Digital Afro.

Employment in computer occupations is projected to increase by 12.5 percent from 2014 to 2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said in its STEM occupations: past, present, and future report in early 2017.

“STEM Stars levels the education playing field,” Brown said. It’s a tool that he anticipates will play a big part in helping to add computer jobs.

The 2018 International Consumer Electronics Show CES Expo recently added Brown as a new judge for the upcoming conference to help evaluate and select the top science and technology products in the world. In an extensive list of non-minority industry leaders, Brown will be a welcome addition to help add diversity to the judging.

More than 170,000 people from 150 countries attend CES. It’s put on by the Consumer Technology Association, which represents the $292 billion U.S. consumer tech industry. Many of products introduced at the annual show have transformed our lives, including:

  • Videocassette Recorder (VCR), 1970
  • Camcorder and Compact Disc Player, 1981
  • Compact Disc – Interactive, 1991
  • High Definition Television (HDTV), 1998
  • Tablets, Netbooks and Android Devices, 2010
  • 3D Printers, Sensor Technology, Curved UHD, Wearable Technologies, 2014

STEM Stars aims to inspire school students to become the next generation of tech entrepreneurs, Brown said in a Hypepotamus report:

“Students have access to code mentors and successful leaders in science, tech, and marketing who provide guidance on learning and building incredible projects. We are committed to educating the next generation of minds with real-world training and entrepreneurial skills for the 21st Century.”

Brown spoke to Moguldom about his journey as a tech founder.

Moguldom: Are you a first-generation entrepreneur?

Stephen Brown: No, I’m a second. My parents started several businesses in the Washington, D.C. area. They started a small telecom company in the early ’80s which is where my passion for tech and my entrepreneurial drive comes from.

Moguldom: Do you define yourself a serial entrepreneur?

Stephen Brown: Yes. I am a seven-time tech founder. I have five companies and projects I’m running now as part of the SB Media Group, but I’ve started several companies prior to this. After college, I started an e-commerce company and I sold pieces of it off to several backers. After that, I built a business search engine that got good traction, but I needed more cash to make it work. After that, a good friend and I started an IT training school here in Georgia and that led me to start online education platforms like STEM Stars.

Inequality In K-12 Education

Moguldom: How did STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in your childhood shape your career and business path?

Stephen Brown: Even as a kid I always loved technology. I built my own computer running BASIC and DOS at 11. Around age 14 and 15, I started learning C++, and that started me on the path to other languages like JavaScript, Perl, PHP and Delphi. I was a good math student, but I really started to apply myself once I started seeing how it is heavily involved in programming.

Moguldom: Why did you start STEM Stars?

Stephen Brown: I started STEM Stars not just to teach kids the Xs and Os of coding but to teach them how to be real science and technology entrepreneurs. Things I’ve had to learn over my career, I’m sharing with students to help inspire the next Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates.

Moguldom: How do you feel your tech background has helped you with STEM Stars?

Stephen Brown: When I finished school and started getting hired as a web and mobile developer, I wanted to start an online school that would be different. I want to give students real tools that real developers use. At STEM Stars we give K-12 students the tools they will use when they get a job or start their own tech company — tools like live code editors, compilers, design tools, programming outlines. We even have them draw out their projects on whiteboards — tools so they are prepared from an early age.

Moguldom: How much of your platform was created by you and how much by other engineers?

Stephen Brown: I designed all the architecture myself. My engineer, Vin, and I wrote 90 percent of the code. We brought in two developers to test the platform and make certain changes, but Vin and I did the work of 10 people.

Moguldom: How has it been received in the tech industry?

Stephen Brown: The industry loves us. We were just nominated for 2017 Atlanta Startup of the Year.

Moguldom: How has it been received in school districts or with parents?

Stephen Brown: Parents absolutely love us as well. STEM Stars teaches their children to become real entrepreneurs and earn real profits for themselves and their families which is something no other platform is currently doing.

Moguldom: How has subscription growth gone for your business?

Stephen Brown: It’s been great. We have individual pricing for parents, and we work out technology contract rates for large schools and school systems.

Moguldom: Did you bootstrap or obtain funding?

Stephen Brown: Because I created a subscription model, I haven’t seen the need for funding yet. We are always open to discussion though.

Moguldom: As a black male do you feel like funding is easy or difficult to obtain in your area?

Stephen Brown: If you are a minority, funding is extremely difficult. Even now investors are still skeptical because there are very few brothers out there getting funded. They may have been part of a group, but not as a sole proprietor. When you talk to most investors, they are cagey and evasive. Things are a little different now, but when you’re a minority you just get used to being second-guessed, even if your product is just as good or better. Honestly, I’m not swayed either way if an investor says yes or no. I know this industry in and out, and I’ve created great products that are self-sustaining. If an investor says yes, cool. If not I keep going.

Moguldom: What presence do you see e-learning playing in education for minority children?

Stephen Brown: STEM Stars levels the education playing field. In America and the world, the quality of education a child receives is based solely on what area the child lives in. A child in a poor community is not going to get the same education as a child in a wealthy community. STEM Stars allow students to get the exact same education no matter where that child resides. With our platform, there are no barriers to a high-level education.

Moguldom: Where do you see your business in 10 years?

Stephen Brown: I see us becoming the standard for STEM education in the U.S. We are working with the U.S. Department of Education now and we can interconnect almost every student in America on our platform. I want to see STEM Stars in every school in the nation in the next 10 years.