Nawroz Pirani (BUS ’07) and Zeeshan Bhimji (BUS ’09) may not be coders, but they’re using their business smarts to teach kids how to code at their Code Ninjas learning center, which they opened last May in Long Grove, Ill. The center teaches children ages seven to 14 how to build video games using computer programming in a fun, interactive environment.
“We’re arming kids with foundational computer science skills, and the best part is, they have no idea how much they’re learning because for them it’s all fun and games,” shares Pirani.
“And it’s not just about coding,” adds Bhimji, “It teaches kids the value of persistence because when you code something, it rarely works the first time. You have to continually troubleshoot before you’re rewarded with something that works.”
One could say the friends are living the American dream. Both moved to the U.S. as teenagers—Pirani from Pakistan and Bhimji from Kenya—to pursue their education and build careers. Both graduated with bachelor’s degrees in finance from DePaul’s Driehaus College of Business.
“DePaul taught me the importance of constantly learning and constantly looking for the void in the market,” shares Bhimji, who started his first business, a residential property management company, after graduating from DePaul at age 24. “I would have not had the confidence to go out there and pursue my business interests were it not for my DePaul education.”
Bhimji has been running profitable franchises for more than 10 years, with Code Ninjas being his newest venture. He grew his property management company from one to two franchises before going on to start a software company, ShowingHero, which was recently nominated for the 2018 Chicago Innovation Award.
“I had to hire developers for my software company, and the experience made me realize how much I didn’t know about coding. I thought, if only I had had more exposure to this growing up,” says Bhimji. “Then when my wife and I had our first child a year ago, I starting looking into educational programs for kids related to coding, and I found Code Ninjas.”
Pirani’s motivations also stemmed from something personal: “I didn’t have good experiences with coding growing up, so I wanted to provide a positive experience for the next generation to learn and excel in this arena. Not everyone is going to be a coder, but no matter what you do in the future, technology is going to be a part of it, so learning these skills early on is critical.”
Prior to opening the center, Pirani spent 10 years building a successful career in the higher education industry. He managed finances and long-term strategy for a $150 million professional education business and worked in IT consulting for top research universities.
“It was through DePaul that I landed my first job after graduation, at Huron Consulting Group,” says Pirani. “DePaul prepared me to go out into the workforce and apply my knowledge with confidence. I learned how to analyze problems and situations from different perspectives, which is an essential skill to have when starting a business.”
The duo has plans to open two more Code Ninja center locations in 2020, one in Arlington Heights and one in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, and their business was recently featured on WGN-TV News.
“When it comes to business, you have to keep your eyes open to where the needs are,” says Bhimji. “Where there is a need, there is an opportunity for business. I’m grateful to DePaul for teaching me that.”
By Nadia Alfadel Coloma