New Westbury connections key for STEAM startup

Plugged in: Hackers participating in We Connect the Dots' annual code-a-thon later this month will enjoy more elbow room in Westbury.

A STEAM-powered nonprofit determined to help educate the next generation of scientists and engineers is going where the action is.

We Connect the Dots Inc. will now promote science, technology, engineering, arts and math education – and host its evolving schedule of pro-innovation networking events – at LaunchPad Westbury. The organization will take a single office large enough to accommodate four volunteer staffers, plus about 200 square feet of storage space, according to founder Laurie Carey, who also has plans for other empty spaces inside 1025 Old Country Road, a sprawling 180,000-square-foot office complex where the latest LaunchPad co-working facility opened last summer.

The registered 501(c)3 had operated out of Carey’s Cold Spring Harbor Home since she officially launched in 2015. Carey, a 30-year-plus tech-strategy veteran and CEO of for-profit tech consultancy Laurie Carey Consulting LLC, said the Westbury hub is the “perfect fit” for her startup, noting its ample space and proximity to multiple school districts – and, of course, its indigenous entrepreneurial population.

Laurie Carey: Fitting right in at LaunchPad Westbury.

“We looked at LaunchPad Huntington, but it was too small, and we’d be too disruptive to the rest of the people there,” Carey told Innovate LI. “We fit nicely with the LaunchPad Westbury community, and that’s really what we want our students to be around.”

That includes the 20-or-so Long Island high school students who filter through We Connect the Dots’ weekly Community Ambassador Program – “Eventually, it may be 100 students coming here,” Carey noted – and the dozens scheduled to participate in Back to School Code-a-Thon 2017, a multi-site hacker haven scheduled for Jan. 20-22.

The organization’s second-annual hack-a-thon will connect programmers at LaunchPad Westbury to teams in Brooklyn, Midtown Manhattan, Harlem and Pennsylvania – and needed a proper venue to serve as the heart of the multi-day event.

“The building is pretty massive,” Carey said. “There’s a large area that’s unoccupied that we’ll occupy for the code-a-thon weekend, and our long-term goal is to look at that space and see if we can get some grant funding to build out our program there.

“We want to be able to create our vision from the beginning, where we can bring in field trips and students can experience immersive real-world programs,” she added. “Where it’s easier for our business partners, who can just come over to chat with the kids for an hour on their lunch break.”

With the relocation afoot, Carey is refocusing her attention on her nonprofit’s bottom line. Amityville-based Good Eats Café is donating breakfast and lunch for 65 people during the weekend-long hack-a-thon, she noted, and “in lieu of money, that’s an enormous help” – but the founder and executive director is targeting 2017 as the year her nonprofit earns its economic stripes.

Carey, who first imagined a STEAM-focused educational-support system while studying for her MBA at Harvard University, is looking into several potential grants that might bolster the We Connect the Dots mission, including a $50,000 Microsoft award that will allow the nonprofit to launch a pilot “workforce experience program” for North Carolina high-schoolers.

She’s also “working closely with the governor’s office to discover other types of (New York) State grants we can go after,” Carey added. “We’re going to do a lot of grant-seeking over the next 12 months.”

One of the main goals of all the grant-seeking is the creation of a large-scale economic-development focal point similar to the Drexel University ExCITe Center (for “Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies”), a research-innovation hub dedicated to the “constructive disruption” of the core aspects of traditional institution-based learning, including technical education and community engagement.

Carey’s ExCITe Center – that’s a working title – would be “a little less constrained” than her Drexel inspiration, she said, in that it would cater to high-schoolers as well as college-level students and might focus a bit more on innovation. But the basic idea would be the same: career-shadowing, internships, networking events and other professional-development programs bridging education and industry.

And LaunchPad Westbury is the perfect place to base it, according to Carey, thanks to 1025 Old Country Road’s centralized location and “large, available raw space.” In fact, We Connect the Dots’ new home may ultimately serve as “the model for future locations across New York State,” she said, stressing the importance of “sustainable careers for our students and connections to industries that need resources to grow.”

“With the high-tech businesses residing in the location, it’s a perfect match for our mission to inspire the next generation of innovators,” she said.  “We couldn’t have asked for a more ideal home.

“I look forward to building partnerships with government, industry, educators and the community to bring that vision to life,” Carey added. “Together, we will create a model for the nation to follow, a model that transforms education, empowers our youth and reignites our teachers’ passion for teaching.”

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