This story was written for WRAL TechWire Advisor partner Momentum Learning.

Graduates of Momentum Learning, a coding school based in Durham, got to show what they were made of, or rather, what they made, at Momentum’s second Demo Day.

Momentum Learning’s Demo Day is a graduation day of sorts. It’s a science fair-meets-show and tell where students present apps they’ve built to an audience of investors, potential employers and others in the tech community.

“It provides a great showcase of the talent available to the hiring managers in the room,” said Jason Caplain, a general partner and co-founder of Bull City Venture Partners, about Demo Day. “The students take what they’ve learned and apply it to solve real problems. It shows that the students coming through understand how to start with a problem and then find the technology needed to help solve it, which is a mature skill that students develop at Momentum.”

Caplain’s venture capitalist firm has invested in several local startups and national companies such as Adwerx, Spiffy, ChannelAdvisor, Even and eTix — some of which have hired Momentum graduates. Caplain attends Demo Day looking for future investments and talent. He noted the importance of finding the right talent to build a business and said one of the hardest sectors to find talent for is in software and web development.

“Those problem-solving skills are what our teams need when hiring new developers,” Caplain continued. “The [Demo Day] projects also show off their creativity.”

Students work in groups to come up with ideas to solve problems ranging from small business employee scheduling to data aggregation that addresses the opioid crisis. Iterating on those ideas, they then bring them to life through apps they code themselves.

Nicholas DeNitto, co-founder and creative director of Manufactur, a creative agency, was particularly impressed with a student who built an app that shows a surfer when he/she can catch the best waves. Modeled after the weather app Dark Sky, which offers users super localized weather reporting, Wave Wise tells a user when the surfing conditions are good in real time. DeNitto liked it so much, he hired the Momentum grad who built it so they could work on it more.

“We’re going to continue incubating it [Wave Wise] at our creative agency because it’s a cool idea. It was well executed, and I was impressed with the design,” DeNitto said. “I didn’t see anything like that coming out of other code schools. I saw some good ideas, maybe, executed poorly at best, and at worst I saw a JavaScript tic-tac-toe.”

“I didn’t see anything like that coming out of other code schools.”
-Nicholas DeNitto, co-founder and creative director of Manufactur

DeNitto said that he’s attended similar showcases from other coding schools before and they simply don’t hold a candle to Momentum’s Demo Day.

“We would have three candidates in a row present the same project. It was so static and showed a lack of creativity, or in the cases where they did have something original, it was totally incomplete, and felt like an idea or a prototype. It didn’t feel like a finished product,” DeNitto recalled.

It’s situations like these that affirm Demo Day as a platform for newbie coders to get their foot in the door with companies who are thirsty for the tech talent that Momentum churns out.

“There is a national rise in vocational programs focusing on technology, like Momentum,” Caplain said. “What I appreciate most about Momentum’s team is their experience in tech education. Their experience has allowed them to take a holistic approach that blends the technical needs of the industry along with the skills and network required to ensure students will be productive and get jobs.”

Tech education is something Jessica Mara knows a lot about. She’s been working in the sector for 20 years.

Mara said Momentum has taken “to another level” the idea of workforce and skill development for people who are willing to take the leap into a new career. Mara’s partner, Lori, enrolled and graduated from Momentum, and had the opportunity to present at Demo Day.

“She became one of the leaders in her particular group. Their final product that they presented on Demo Day was related to her previous field in the sense that it was collecting data to try and combat the number of undocumented Narcan Kits,” Mara explained.

Lori’s previous career as a clinical researcher in radiation oncology helped inspire the idea for her group’s Demo Day app. Narcan Kits contain items that are necessary to treat a known or suspected opioid overdose. The app aggregates data from the kits and places it into a centralized system to track information on how the kits are created and distributed.

Mara said that Momentum hones in on skill development for people like Lori who are looking to build a new skill set, change careers and add to the technology workforce.

“For us in the Triangle, we are a very heavy technology area. We have a very strong focus on higher education, and this is a way to increase career tech skills and … increase the type of students that are moving into the workforce that have the skills that are in high demand by a lot of the employers in the area,” she said.

With Demo Day, Momentum helps deliver on its promise to help a person charter a path for a new career, and students deliver creative and well-thought-out apps that are a reflection of Momentum’s immersive education. It’s a win-win for everyone.

“I walked in and thought I’d be one of 20 to 25 people. I think there were five times that,” Caplain said. “I was a little late and walked in and had trouble finding a seat. They’ll need a bigger venue for the next one.”

This story was written for WRAL TechWire Advisor partner Momentum Learning.