17 July 2013   //   Subscribe to the MSDN Flash
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Renea Mackie

Project Developer

IT HOTHOUSE &
UPT Digital





Microsoft Research working with IT HOTHOUSE to create tech savvy student entrepreneurs with support from BizSpark.


Nearly four years ago, I was fortunate enough to connect with Mark Finch, who was at that time, a SDE working on Kodu in the Creative Systems Group at Microsoft Research. We were testing Kodu with a group of children from Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti and Discovery 1 Schools in Christchurch. I knew nothing about programming, platforms, or frameworks, and poor Mark was stuck with the job of having to talk me through the Kodu installation process from afar, with the .NET and XNA frameworks battling with our dreaded school proxy.

Mark has an amazing talent for explaining technical concepts to non-technical people and after a few months I was confident that if I had Mark Finch as a mentor, I could probably support the kids at school to explore this pretty exciting world of technology without having to be an expert myself, or a teacher for that matter.

Four years on, Mark Finch has moved to the Graphics Group at Microsoft Research, and is still my mentor. Together, with a group of entrepreneurial teenagers, we have created a learning framework based on how the students prefer to work, along with input and guidance from industry professionals the world over.

Our class, or “pod” as we like to call it, is called UPT Digital and we have created a global umbrella brand “IT HOTHOUSE”, as a central virtual space and governance for all pods. With two pods operating at schools in California, a third starting next semester, an entire school district in San Francisco wanting to get on board, and requests coming in from other countries, we were faced with the challenge of creating a versatile, scalable, cloud-based product to connect mentors, students, and teachers, irrespective of location.

Since IT HOTHOUSE is a start-up company we have joined the Microsoft BizSpark Program, giving us access to the tools and services including Windows Azure, which are necessary to build our solution.

Our product design is based on our learning model, making it easy for kids at schools to collaborate, share, learn, build their global professional networks, and develop products to create businesses before graduating high school.

IT HOTHOUSE at Unlimited already has a number of entrepreneurial student projects emerging, including a web design business, Flight SIM applications, a teen design collective, a record label, a magazine, and a Windows Azure based social enterprise application called “Flare For It” using ESRI’s ArcGIS Online Software and DNN.

Check out UPT Digital on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp.

IT HOTHOUSE & UPT Digital at TechEd New Zealand 2011


Microsoft NZ have long been supporters of IT HOTHOUSE and UPT Digital by sponsoring us for Tech Hui 2011 in Wellington, and giving us the opportunity to present at Microsoft TechEd New Zealand 2011 in Auckland. The boys were also interviewed for Microsoft Tech Talks and TVNZ's Breakfast Show. In fact, Mateus Velloso (a.k.a the "Vellosinator, now a SSDE at Microsoft's Sammamish Campus) was present at the boys very first informal presentation at NZiDev at Jade in 2010. Nokia has also been a great supporter, giving us Nokia Lumia Windows Phones for developing apps and taking awesome pictures!

You can watch UPT Digital's presentation at TechEd New Zealand 2011 here. Our UPT Digital Kids also shared their experiences at the 2011 Tech Talk Interviews. Check it out here.

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