Fun with science

Nashua club’s program helps develop young entrepreneurs

Staff photos by TINA FORBES Above: From left, Julie Sage, Dencel Reynoso and Bobbie Farina demonstrate a device they created to notify a person if their trash can is full. The three are part of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Nashua’s Entrepreneurial Alley program. Below: Rajesh Nair, founder of EnCube Labs, speaks at the Entrepreneurial Alley presentation on Friday.

A recent field trip to the Four Hills Landfill and Recycling Center inspired a group of local youths in the Entrepreneurial Alley program at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Nashua to present their inventions to help manage trash.

“We identified ways to deal with waste, and the challenge is, ‘How do you change your habits at your home that reduces and reuses waste?'” said Rajesh Nair, local businessman and founder of EnCube Labs.

Nair is also the founder and lead coach of the Entrepreneurial Alley program.

The landfill trip was part of the six-month Entrepreneurial Alley program taught by EnCube Labs and piloted by the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Nashua.

In January, participants designed and built inventions that performed a task, but didn’t necessarily solve a problem. This week, they designed and created an invention that helped solve the problem of managing or reusing trash.

The final project, set for April, will have groups of kids create something that addresses a problem and could be marketable, fulfilling the entrepreneurial piece of the program.

Inventions presented Friday afternoon at the club included a sensor that alerts the user when a trash can is full and a rack to hold plastic grocery bags.

“You don’t need an engineering degree to do any of these things,” Nair said, adding the kids have all learned elements of 3-D CAD, 3-D printing and electronic programming. “I have taught kids as young as 8 years old; they can pick it up.”

For the presentation Friday afternoon, teams of 16 club members in four groups explained their projects to parents, club staff and other visitors.

Julie Sage, 12, explained her group created the trash sensor to prevent bags of garbage from overflowing.

“Trash is a huge problem. We visited the landfill, and there was a bunch of trash and a lot of it was strewn around,” Julie said, adding animals may get into the garbage and get hurt.

Julie’s teammate Bobbie Farina, 16, said he liked Entrepreneurial Alley.

“It’s a lot of fun because it’s something different. I wasn’t a science person, I was more into music – I still am – but I got more into science than ever before,” Bobbie said.

Dencel Reynoso, 11, agreed: “I really liked it because it had a lot of science, and we can code some of it.”

Dencel credited Julie for taking the lead on coding the sensor.

Students accessed much of the information on solving problems themselves, Nair said.

“They learned things from Google,” he said. “They asked, ‘How do you write the code?’ and looked it up.”

State Rep. Latha Mangipudi, D-Nashua, introduced Nair to the Boys & Girls Club in January, hoping to bring his entrepreneurship learning opportunities to Nashua children.

“As immigrants, we like to solve big problems back home,” Mangipudi said. “But in my own backyard are students full of energy, full of potential – let’s give them the same opportunities.”

Nair said while the projects won’t likely result in marketable products, it’s about fostering young entrepreneurs.

“The idea is not to bet on the song, but the singer,” he said.

EnCube Labs was founded on MIT research showing that innovators and entrepreneurs can be created through nurture and education as well as nature. Nair developed a three-part curriculum that teaches problem solving, prototyping and opportunity identification skills to transform anyone into an entrepreneur. The process has been tested in Malaysia, India and Vietnam, and now in Nashua.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-1246, tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_ TinaF.