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STEM enrichment provider in Va. details long-term expansion plans

Ideaventions, a before- and after-school enrichment center in Oakton, Va., offering science and technology instruction for children ages 3-13, is looking for new organizations to partner with to expand its reach, and is thinking of growing its own facility in the long term.

Ideaventions already works with 14 different schools in the Northern Virginia area, reaching between 800 and 1,000 children each session, says Ideaventions cofounder and CEO Ryan Heitz. "We have a long waiting list of schools that would like our programs, but we want to 'grow smartly.'"

Both Heitz and his wife and cofounder Juliana Heitz attended Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria. After completing degrees in STEM fields at MIT (Juliana) and UVA (Ryan), the couple returned to Northern Virginia and had "two curious children," Heitz explains. "We were shocked by how little there was with science and engineering on an enrichment basis." So they started Ideaventions in 2010, offering courses on engineering, chemistry, robotics, Minecraft mods and programming for the mini-computer Raspberry Pi.
"Kids are amazingly imaginative and curious," Heitz says. "We want to tap into that side of their brain." For 1st–3rd grade students, that might mean an oceanography class disguised as a pirate treasure hunt, where students complete a series of science and engineering experiments to find a shipwreck.
In addition to classes that Ideaventions takes on the go, Ideaventions has 2,000 square feet of space divided into four different lab areas, where kids can use microscopes, try building LEGO robots, or program a computer game. Heitz says the company's preschool offerings, called Mini Einsteins, are some of the most popular classes at the center. "They expose kids to science at a very young age," he explains, "and they are small—eight kids or less per class."
In addition to partnering with schools, camps and other community organizations, Heitz is planning to publish some of Ideaventions' curriculum in kits and books so that more students can take advantage of the company's approach to STEM enrichment. His plan is to publish the Mini Einsteins curriculum first.
Heitz is also looking for larger digs for the science center itself. "We'd like to offer more classes and to have a true exhibit space," he explains, "maybe in the one-to-two year horizon."

Read more articles by Allyson Jacob.

Allyson Jacob is a writer originally hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, and is the Innovation and Job News editor for Elevation DC. Her work has been featured in The Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati CityBeat. Have a tip about a small business or start-up making waves inside the Beltway? Tell her here.
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