Saumya Goyal and Danielle Egan, both BS 21, were texting late-night after the coronavirus pandemic started when Egan shared a startup idea: How about a new program that helps connect bored teenage students to some fun classes during the pandemic?
Goyal loved the idea and the pair worked out the details to co-found startup Connect-in-Place, a free online “summer camp” for middle- and high-school students packed with dozens of classes taught by more than 100 college students.
“During this time, kids are especially lonely and disconnected and they really need that social connection for their development and growth,” Egan said. “Connect-in-Place is one way to find those connections.”
The Connect-in-Place idea caught fire fast. The first session, which ran from June 22-July 17, enrolled 750 kids from around the world in more than 60 classes that reflected the passions of the teachers, many of them student-volunteers from across UC Berkeley and other UC schools. The second session, which starts today, is even more popular than the first, with around 1,400 students enrolling in 150 classes.
The classes range from pure fun (Intro to DJing and Bollywood Dance) to a bit more academic (Intro to Python and Game Theory) to pragmatic (Personal Finance 101 and a High School Survival Guide). There’s even a class that explains the biology of COVID-19.
Classes, taught two to three times a week, are capped at 10 kids per class.
Relationships that continue after classes end
The popularity of Connect-in-Place is a surprising success story for both its founders, who met during Haas undergraduate orientation. Both are working on Connect-in-Place while interning—Goyal is working for Deloitte this summer and Egan is at Salesforce.
But they’re getting support for the new venture from a 10-person management team, comprised of UC Berkeley students, including Haas undergraduate Kevin Wu, BS 20, who manages corporate relations. They also reached out through their networks and social media to find students who wanted to teach.
Lauren Yang, a rising sophomore at UC Berkeley who said she plans to apply to Haas, agreed to teach algebra during Connect-In-Place’s first session, and said it was a great experience.
“Even though I was teaching math, I tried to use fun games like Kahoot or Jeopardy, so the kids wouldn’t feel like it was summer school, but more of a fun class that they were excited to attend,” she said. Yang said she believes that the Connect-in-Place classes are designed to push students to form bonds. “We keep classes fun, interesting, and lighthearted so students wanted to come to every class to get to know their friends more.”
Classes led by teachers who are not that much older than they are is a refreshing change for teens, Goyal said.
Goyal’s sister, Deeksha, who taught a Bollywood dance class, said the kids were having so much fun during her one-hour class that they extended it to three hours. Even though the session has ended, she said the kids planned to meet for an hour every week for the rest of the summer on their own.
A “cool impact on kids”
Currently, Connect-in-Place is a bootstrapped operation. It has no funding—the founders cover any expenses they have out of pocket and they ask for a suggested donation of $10 per week per class from those who can afford it.
They’re using all of the money they’ve raised through donations–around $9,000 so far–toward providing laptops or digital infrastructure to students with financial need.
Goyal said they’re also researching potential nonprofit partners to work with as they consider the future and how to scale.
With schools in the Bay Area and beyond preparing for distance learning to continue into next year, the problems of isolation and boredom for teens isn’t expected to go away any time soon, she said.
But both founders say they’re willing to put in the extra time to help out.
“When I get tired I just realize we’re having such a cool impact on kids,” Goyal said. Egan agreed.
“That’s all the motivation we need,” she said. “We’re so passionate about this that it doesn’t feel like work.”