Photo courtesy of Beech Technologies

Photo courtesy of Beech Technologies

Seven Louisville high schoolers are spending 30 hours a week in an office on East Market Street in an effort to start their own web development business. Beech Technologies sprang from Code Louisville’s Coding @ the Beech initiative where students met at the Beecher Terrace housing complex twice a week to learn coding and work with a mentor from the local IT community.

The kids range in age from 15-18; two graduated from Ballard High School this year and are headed to Eastern Kentucky University to study computer science (among other things). All but one of them had been guided to the program by an instructor at Ballard. When IL asked them why they thought they’d been singled out, a couple replied, “We’re computer nerds.” Another said, “We’re geniuses.”

The students completed the Coding @ the Beech program on Thursday, June 11, and started their first day at the office on Monday of this week.

At the beginning of the program, no one knew the endgame.

“Once we set it up, the next question was, ‘What’s next?'” Mayor Greg Fischer told Insider.

Once they saw how dedicated the seven students and their mentors were, Fischer and Chief of Civic Innovation Ted Smith decided to create a SummerWorks job for them and let them learn how to be entrepreneurs.

“Let’s hire them and see how they can start making money,” explained Fischer.

And Beech Technologies was born, with a lot of help from a lot of people.

According to Smith, the J. Graham Brown Foundation stepped in to guarantee the students a minimum wage, and Bryce Butler and Access Ventures are providing the back-office services like handling the payroll. The seven employees will share the profits from every deal they close (with a little money going back into the business).

The students also needed a full-time mentor. Rider Rodriguez, founder of Code Louisville, said that when they were searching for program mentors, Kevin Johnson’s name was “in the ‘overqualified’ pile.” Johnson — currently in the JCPS hiring pool for jobs teaching business and social studies — took on the role of mentor for Beech Technologies.

The plan behind Beech Technologies is to help neighborhood and community businesses establish and maintain a web presence, which has long been a goal of the Mayor’s Office.

“The goal is to help the businesses grow and then outgrow what we can do for them,” said Rodriguez.

According to the Beech website:

In the United States, 85% of consumers use the Internet to find local businesses. As a matter of fact, many consumers utilize the Internet to find local businesses on a daily basis. Therefore, with the continued growth of web usage, it is essential that businesses are visible and accessible from multiple online platforms. Due to this growing need, Beech Technologies aims to help small businesses establish strong web presences in order to reach their consumers.

Beech Tech can provide small businesses with a responsive website and get them registered with Google for a very low cost. It’s still early on now, but they are working toward building a production team and a sales and marketing team.

Mayor Fischer said both Code Louisville and the Safe and Healthy Neighborhood initiative are two major areas of emphasis for the city, and Coding @ the Beech was an intersection of these two initiatives.

“We wanted to show that we have talent all throughout the city,” Fischer said. “Let’s see if Beecher Terrace can be a demo site for urban coding.”

Fischer said that in low-income communities, kids are challenged to get their education and promised that good things will come, but those things don’t always pan out — at least not quickly.

“We wanted to shorten the timeline between gathering skills and getting a paycheck,” said Fischer.

What’s next for the program? The Louisville Drum Corps’ Ed White has expressed interest in having his drummers learn how to code, and the mayor said that is a possibility. Fischer hopes Beech Technologies inspires graduates of the next cohort to start their own business. By encouraging entrepreneurship, “we’re trying to create another narrative toward success,” he said.

This year, 2,500 kids are employed by the SummerWorks program. Fischer sees this program not just as a jobs program but as “career pathing” for kids, similar to paid internships.

Beech Technologies offers a $99-a-month base subscription that includes a custom domain, custom website with up to 20 pages, fully integrated e-commerce, a Google account, social media presence and full customer support. If you’re interested in hiring them or talking to them about other services they may offer, check out the website.

We’ll be checking in with Beech Technologies throughout the summer, so stay tuned.