In Oscar Pedroso’s (he/him) eyes, education is disruptive.
As such, educators are tasked with constantly finding new and better ways to teach when societal needs and interests inevitably change. Oscar is the founder and CEO of Thimble.io, a StartOut Growth Lab graduate, and a passionate LGBTQ+ entrepreneur from Buffalo with a palpable dedication to teaching.
As part of our continued spotlight on founders in the education industry, we’re proud to spotlight someone like Oscar, whose sole mission is to improve the lives of our next generations and leave a lasting legacy.
How did you first start working in education, Oscar?
My whole professional career has been in education. I started as a college admissions officer at the University of Rochester when I was an undergrad. Once I graduated, the position became full-time working in the College of Engineering’s office.
After that, I started my application consulting and tutoring business. I did that for some time before eventually taking the leap into teaching where I worked at inner-city schools as a math teacher. As a teacher, I helped lead the robotics club which helped lay the foundation for Thimble.
How did you venture into entrepreneurship?
Being at such a poor school district, we didn’t have a ton of resources or academic programs. What I observed as a teacher is what led me to the early beginnings of Thimble.
I spent about three years in the school districts. We had general sciences, but there was such a disconnect between what’s taught in school and what’s needed in the workforce today—things like advanced robotics and coding, cybersecurity, Metaverse, and AI – kids showed interest in these subjects, but we didn’t have the resources to help them.
I was spending a lot of my own money and not getting support from my district, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.
When I started the tutoring business, I did it for a year and a half before realizing that I didn’t like working solo. I wanted to work on a bigger problem, affecting more people in a larger setting. That was the biggest draw to launching Thimble.
What is your mission with Thimble?
Thimble is a tech curriculum that teaches robotics and programming skills to elementary and middle school students. We sell reusable kits that teach kids how to build robots, drones, etc. and how to program those projects to show them how these skills can be fun and useful. We also provide teachers training so they can implement this type of education successfully.
Our biggest goal is to get kids interested in robotics and programming. We want to offer an alternative style of learning that shows students at an early age how impactful these skills are.
I went to public school and paid a lot for college degrees. I have a lot of friends who got degrees that they didn’t use at all. Education in practice is disruptive, and I want to show students that they can learn real, tangible skills without worrying if they can afford increasingly high tuition. Many tech jobs are opening up that care more about your skillset than your degree, so we think by starting to generate interest at a young age, we’ll have a greater impact in the future.
Where are you currently making an impact?
At present, we’ve sold to 2,000 customers in all 50 states and 30 countries. We’re in contracts with just over 300 schools in 37 districts, mostly in Texas, the Southeast, and New York. Our goal is to keep expanding into as many schools and districts as possible. It’s still hard at times because schools aren’t the easiest to work with but we’ve been pretty successful at it.
In addition to K-12 schools, we’re talking to a few organizations outside of the US that are interested in bringing Thimble to their companies. Many corporations here at home have reached out to buy our kits and donate them to nearby districts. Recently, Capital One purchased our program and gave them away to schools in DC. So it’s really about getting as many entities involved as possible.
What are the biggest challenges facing education today?
It’s tough working in K-12 because everything moves so slowly, and it’s very relationship-based. Superintendents don’t typically respond well to cold calls and you need to have that face-to-face interaction to get your point across well.
To build a business in our space, you have to have a good system. We have a channel of about 10,000 schools which is great for our small team. But if you don’t set up that kind of structure it’s really hard to generate any sales.
Was it a challenge to make the transition from educator to entrepreneur?
It was certainly a transition. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial attitude that I couldn’t act on as a student. I read all that I could and it took some time. I realized the best thing I could do was surround myself with people from all backgrounds to really make a product that could work. My co-founder is a computer engineer who brings a wealth of knowledge in hardware and programming, whereas I bring a curriculum and teaching background.
When I left K-12, I was ready. I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy, and I’ll learn all that I need to know or find someone who knows more than I do. Running Thimble is less about managing and more about finding the right people to do the job.
How has StartOut helped you develop your entrepreneurial skills as an LGBTQ+ founder?
I first found StartOut from a mentor I had in NYC through an event. A few weeks later, I found out about the Growth Lab through a newsletter. We applied twice before we got in and it was one of the best growth opportunities for our company.
I loved getting to know Ryan and Chris and I’ll still pester them from time to time about something, even after graduating. I got to be close with Maca from Avocademy and Cory Kelly from Legal Karma. We talk every week and Slack constantly about some problem or opportunity we’re facing. The community aspect is irreplaceable. It’s so great to meet founders in the LGBTQ+ space which I wouldn’t really get in Buffalo. StartOut does a great job of connecting us in this unique space, no matter how far apart we are.