Y Combinator Backs Its Next Nonprofit, Coding Education Program CodeNow

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CodeNow is announcing that it has joined incubator Y Combinator — move that founder and CEO Ryan Seashore said will help with the programming education nonprofit’s ambitious plans for growth.

CodeNow aims to teach programming basics to high schoolers, particularly girls, ethnic minorities, and other underrepresented groups. It launched in Washington, D.C. in 2011 before expanding to New York City and San Francisco last year.

The program’s approach combines weekend sessions, online coursework, and an intensive boot camp conducted over longer school breaks. Seashore said the question he’s been asking himself, and one that’s been amplified by joining YC, is, “How do you make in-person training scale?”

The answer, or at least the one that Seashore plans to pursue, is not abandoning the in-person aspect of the program. However, he noted that CodeNow has been limiting its class size to 30 students at most. A new approach, which the classes have already begun to adopt, is bringing more students in but dividing them into groups of six to eight. Each of those groups will work with their own volunteer trainer, and they’ll move at their own pace.

In addition, Seashore said he’s developing the curriculum for “CodeNow in a Box,” which would basically allow companies and other organizations to partner with CodeNow, offering classes with their own staff but using the CodeNow curriculum. He said he hasn’t made any agreement yet, but companies have expressed interest.

“This is how we start scaling,” Seashore said, and he credited YC for “pushing me out of my comfort zone and making me think bigger.” He added, “We’re really looking to go from hundreds of kids to hundreds of thousands of kids.”

You may recall that YC announced that it had backed its first nonprofit, Watsi, a little more than a year ago. Then in the fall, the incubator said that it was ready to accept more nonprofits. (The money it puts in is supposed to be a donation, giving it no financial stake in these organizations.)

There are several other nonprofits in the current batch of YC startups, Seashore said. He also noted that even though he’s in Mountain View for YC, and even though he sees the San Francisco Bay Area as an important market for CodeNow, the nonprofit will still be headquartered in New York. That makes it YC’s first New York-based nonprofit.