Techpreneurs Michael and Schapiro Kalu are giving kids a leg up on professional success.
By Jessica Bizik
Photography by Chris Crews
It seems like every month there’s a new networking series or awards program for high achievers under age 30 or 40. But what if middle and high school kids—especially those living in low-resource neighborhoods—had the the same opportunity? A chance to pick the brains of successful professionals across hundreds industries?
Michael and Schapiro Kalu aim to find out.
The techpreneurs, brothers, and roommates are currently bootstrapping and beta-testing Kinnected, an online platform that connects kids with educational resources to help them choose and succeed in a career path. Set to release in mid-September, Kinnected will help save kids from going down the rabbit hole known as Google.
“Searching online for resources is often more daunting than informative,” says Schapiro, 28, who has already launched one successful start-up: Ravent, a platform where consumers provide feedback on products and services, so companies can improve their customer experiences.
What’s unique about Kinnected is that it’s interactive. Students log into the app to ask all their burning (education/career) questions, like: Should I take either the ACT, SAT or both? What are some common application mistakes I can avoid? I like writing; should I major in English or journalism?
Then, the experts—from college admissions reps to corporate CEOs—answer them, providing real-world insight and personalized advice.
“Our plan is to integrate with LinkedIn to verify the professionals,” says Michael, 26, a stack developer for Capital One. “Only the experts can respond to the students’ questions, but their answers will be visible to everyone—making it a benefit for all.”
Security is paramount to Kinnected, as the end-users are nearly all minors. But that’s no sweat for Schapiro, whose day job at Price Waterhouse Cooper is consulting government clients on information technology strategies. (Yep, he’s got Top Secret security clearance.)
While the students’ and professionals’ full names will appear on the platform, there’s no direct messaging between them, and the app will include a community flagging system and algorithms to detect problematic language.
“Also, parents can log in to see what their kids are searching—and ask questions themselves, about things like financial aid or how to help a child with mental health issues,” adds Schapiro, who has both a bachelor’s degree (Bowie State University) and a masters degree (UMBC) in psychology, and served as a youth mentor and rehabilitation counselor while he was in school.
When it comes to parents, the Kalu brothers lucked out. Theirs are wonderfully supportive—and still live in the original home in Northeast Baltimore, where they raised their boys.
Michael, in particular, didn’t like school as a kid. But he did love sports (he was an All-American Lacrosse player Baltimore Polytechnic Institute) and started teaching himself code at a young age—ultimately
graduating from Baltimore City Community College with an associates degree in engineering, and the University of Maryland with a B.S. in computer Science.
“We grew up in a high-crime neighborhood, where we saw some of our friends get left behind,” he says. “Fortunately, we have a loving mother and father who were able to guide us to stay out of trouble, but many kids in the city don’t have both parents, or they might not have grounded parents who pay attention to their academic performance.”
“Kinnected will be like a virtual family to inspire those kids—really, all kids,” says Schapiro, adding that the current plan is to keep the service free, supported by age-appropriate advertising.
And if you’re wondering whether living and working together is stressful for the two siblings … so far, they say it’s all good—even though it’s a bit like living in a perpetual brainstorming session.
“We both have the same mindset and passion. We have the same drive,” says Michael. “It actually works well for us.”
Students and professionals can sign up to be part of the Kinnected beta launch at kinnectedapp.com.