Applications, which can be found here, are due this Friday.
UIT began last September and the 12 students in the first cohort learned simple coding and business methodologies through self-directed learning and conversations with mentors. All the curriculum materials are available free on the Internet.
UIT founder and lead mentor Gavin Uhma wanted to see students learn coding and business in a hands-on way rather than focusing on theory.
He knows how difficult launching a startup is because he co-founded GoInstant, which was acquired by Salesforce in 2012.
Uhma implemented the mentorship aspect to the program, and has brought in successful business owners and executives to help students solve technological and business problems.
“We want them to feel like they’re at a school, but also that they work at a startup,” UIT executive director Mike Targett said in an interview.
Every week, UIT students receive a list of open-source materials to learn a new skill, such as the Week 1 lesson of how to create a website. Each lesson builds on the previous ones. For example, in Week 3, they learn to build a chat application for the website.
Each time they learn a new skill, they receive feedback from their mentors and ask Twitter users what they think of the new application.
“The goal was even if you’ve never written a line of code in your life, you could learn enough about the technology to communicate with, for example, a chief technology officer,” Targett said.
Four new companies came out of the first UIT cohort. This year, UIT will offer a co-op program so students can bring their skills to Cape Breton technology companies or startups.
Targett said Cape Breton is ideal for beginning a startup because of its affordable housing and fast Internet connections.
UIT also wants to contribute to the Cape Breton startup and tech ecosystem. Uhma, who had to move to Halifax to scale his company, wants to create a better ecosystem in Cape Breton so founders needn’t leave the island to scale their companies.
“I really want UIT to be a community project so that the community feels like it partially owns UIT,” Targett said.
The students in UIT are a varied bunch — divided evenly between men and women and coming from all backgrounds. The ages range from seasoned executives and some recent finished high school graduates.
“We’re going to have a gender parity in our program that is reflective of the human population,” Targett said, “because the technology sector is not exactly representative of that demographic split right now.”
UIT, which gets funding from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Cape Breton University and private donors, offers several bursaries, including ones for women and promising students.
Targett and Uhma have no current expansion plans, but UIT can easily expand elsewhere because of the open-source learning model. The difficulty is finding mentors.
“You need to be able to have the time of humans who have been there, done that,” Targett said.
“That’s the part that’s hardest to scale — but it’s the most valuable.”