Sacramento Startup Profile: Nicholas Haystings, co-founder of Square Root Academy

Leadership Grants​ for ​educational programs ​that train our next entrepreneurs in technology & business to build Sacramento-based startups is a key component of the City of Sacramento’s RAILS grant program. Several recipients of leadership RAILS grants are working to train, educate and foster Sacramento’s next generation of innovators. One of those, Square Root Academy, trains the next generation of engineers and scientists coming from underserved areas in the very communities this demographic resides in. It ensures that this program is accessible to those who need it most at no cost at all to the students. Using a hands on STEM-based curriculum, in-class mentors connect the mathematical and scientific theories taught in the classroom to real life applications. The projects that the students create foster a sense of academic empowerment within the students by bridging the gap between the concepts in the classroom and their practical use.

I met with Nicholas Haystings, co-founder of Square Root Academy, to talk about their program, the positive effects it has on the lives of the participating kids, as well as working together as a community in Sacramento to support and leverage their efforts.

Key takeaways

On winning a RAILS grant

“Winning the [RAILS] grant is allowing us to serve a larger demographic because now we have the funds and resources to do so. It’s allowing us to spread our mission even further.”

On some examples of what they plan to do in the coming year

“As of right now we have one site. We’re in talks of negotiating adding one more for the Spring ’17 semester, and then also ultimately having three for the Fall ’17 semester. In addition to that, we just finished up our hackathon. We have plans to do a much larger hackathon in May partnering with other RAILS [grant] recipients. On top of that we have our Square Root Academy STEM Summit, which will be happening in March or February. So the RAILS grant is helping to fund all that.”

On the impact that the program has on the kids’ lives

“It has a large impact. We have kids saying that they want to be engineers, students now that want to be scholars. We had a field trip, I want to say about four weeks ago, many of our students have never seen a college campus, their parents have never seen a college campus. Then I have students asking, ‘Hey Mr. Nick, are you going to come to my college graduation when I graduate?’ So, that’s the effect that we have. You get them thinking about their future in academics, their future in industry, and in doing that in changes the trajectory of their life path but also of their kids and their kids’ kids for generations to come.”

“At our hackathon it was a packed house full of parents so excited to see what their kids are building, creating, to watch them present.”

On fostering student creativity and innovation in the hackathon

“We like to give our students complete free range. That’s why one of our taglines is ‘Engineering creativity one student at a time.’ Because it’s the creativity that’s really going to get them to innovation and building new things, new ideas.”

“What we wanted them to really get out of it is for one, exercise that creativity and that freedom to build whatever they want. It was the process, but not only that. We want them to get comfortable with, ‘Ok this didn’t work. What are we going to do next. What’s next.’ ”

On what the Sacramento startup and innovation community can do to help promote and leverage the work Square Root Academy is doing and have an even bigger impact

“Well I think what we can do is kind of like community innovation is just work together. Because the best innovation comes from a diverse set of ideas and you have all these organizations doing so many different, great things. So, really just, being there for each other whether it’s ‘Ok, I have this skillset. You need this, whether it’s recording or graphic artist, or someone who’s really good at this particular type of coding.’ If we all partner together and utilize our skillsets, we can make Sacramento a great tech innovation ecosystem.

Thanks to Nicholas for taking the time to share as well as the great work that he and the Square Root Academy team are doing to not only train our next generation of engineers in underserved areas but to foster a sense of creativity and innovation as well. Be sure to check out their website and sign up for their email updates to learn about their open registrations, their  Square Root Academy STEM Summit, and the hackathon they’re planning for May 2017.

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