A Launchpad Into Code for High Schoolers
“$50,000 for a high schooler to put on cool events is more than any high schooler can ask for.”
Startup Stories ————————
Dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt, Jevin Sidhu looks like any ordinary teenager. He’s got a solid group of friends, an older brother he looks up to, and he’s eager to start at university in a couple months, where he will study computer science at the University of Toronto. By all accounts, he’s an ordinary young man fresh out of highschool, ready to embark on a new chapter in his life.
But during his high school years, Jevin Sidhu and his friends didn’t have ordinary aspirations.
Sidhu is the co-founder and owner of Cipher, a non-profit that aims to teach coding and programming basics to youth in their local community, through workshops, tutorials, and meet ups where they choose pertinent topics and teach the information to others – sometimes meaning they have to learn it themselves first.
He and his North Park Secondary School classmates came up with the idea for Cipher in their eleventh grade school year, but their dive into the world of computer programming began much earlier. In eighth grade Sidhu developed an interest in computer science, though he notes it began as more of a hobby than anything else.
“It was fun, but I didn’t really take it seriously ‘til the tenth or even eleventh grade,” he explained.
He attended several programming events meant for undergraduate students in grades 10 and 11, where he learned the details of programming and met other youth his age who shared his interests, like his co-founder Brian, and his other Cipher team members and classmates.
Sidhu also credits his elder brother as a factor in his decision to pursue programming. A tech enthusiast who works at Shopify, Sidhu explains that his brother pushed him “into a lot of different things to try,” resulting in Jevin discovering that coding went beyond just a hobby for him; it was a passion.
From there, he and his friends realized that there were many other people in their community who had an interest in computer programming, and who could benefit from their knowledge.
They gained mentorship in their initial stages via David Guida and Daniel Francavilla, who Sidhu credits with helping Cipher get off the ground. Guida provided Cipher with their first investment, and enabled them to carry out their first programming event when they first started out. Francavilla provided them with support and advice in ensuring Cipher’s success.
The Cipher team held their meetings at LAB B, a local startup incubator, and worked out of that space. With strong support from their families, mentors, and their community, Cipher began to grow significantly, and its existence was quickly validated, with their events seeing a higher turnout of eager-to-learn attendees each time.
They gained significant resources a mere few months after their first event in the form of grants from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Laidlaw. They used these grants to ensure that Cipher hosted quality events throughout the year.
Sidhu expressed the importance of funding when starting a nonprofit – there are lots of grants available for startups, if you know where to look and have a plan in place.
“You have to do some research. You have to have a plan before you start,” he said, “But it’s definitely worth it – $50,000 for a high schooler to put on cool events is more than any high schooler can ask for.”
These grants require providing information on what the money would be spent on – in the case of Cipher, event space rentals, workshop materials, and more. Obtaining the grants was another area where his mentors were a huge help – whenever Sidhu and his fellow Cipher team members needed guidance, Guida and Francavilla were there.
“It was cool because we could pay back the people who had helped us,” Sidhu added, explaining that one of their first uses of the grant money was to pay back Guida, who had financed Cipher’s very first event.
With some of the Cipher team, including Sidhu and Brian, now heading off to various universities, they intend to keep Cipher going, though it will require a bit more logistical thought than when they were all attending the same secondary school.
Sidhu doesn’t see this as a problem however; it’s merely an extra step in ensuring Cipher continues the important events they’ve held since their inception.
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