Aspiring Lower East Side App Developer Gets a Boost From GenTech

Seward Chen.

Seward Chen.
Seward Chen.

For Lower East Side high school senior Seward Chen, it was not a summer to sit around watching television or playing video games. He was one of 47 students who participated in Generation Tech, an intensive eight week program aimed at cultivating New York’s next technology and entrepreneurial stars.

GenTech is a collaboration between the NYC Economic Development Corp. and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, a non-profit organization that provides training and education programs for young people from low-income urban communities. During the summer, Chen and his team developed a mobile app called “Leaf Literature,” that makes it possible for aspiring writers to upload and share their content, while allowing users to share their constructive feedback.

At the end of the eight week session, the high school students got to pitch their ideas at a demo night and awards ceremony. Leaf Literature was a semi-finalist.

Chen is a student at the High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, one of the schools housed on the Seward Park campus on Grand Street. He was born in Queens, but returned to China as a child to gain exposure to Chinese culture in the Fujian province, where his family is from. Chen came back to the U.S. for high school and now lives on Montgomery Street.

During a recent interview, Chen said GenTech helped him grow in all sorts of ways.  The program launched with a two week bootcamp covering topics such as entrepreneurship, marketing and creating business models. A team of mentors then guided the young participants as they learned about coding and app development. “My instructor, Jordan, taught me about coding but also about social networking and really opened up my mind,” said Chen. “I was so shy (before the program began) that I could not speak confidently (in public).”

In the beginning, the students struggled to work as a cohesive unit. “I was pretty bad at teamwork at first,” Chen explained. “My team wasn’t that great at collaborating. Everyone had different opinions.” But, he said, “in the last three or four weeks we started to collaborate. I feel like I learned the most from that experience.”

The GenTech program is meant to cultivate New York’s technology sector, which now employees about 300,000 people. “GenTech embodies the city’s efforts to nurture the tech ecosystem and the talent that underpins it,” said Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, “and to make New York’s tech sector look more like New York City.”

The grand prize winner, and the recipient of a $5,000 award, was OPUS, an app that connects students to businesses and allows them to gain professional experience.

Chen is busily preparing his college applications. He’s interested in becoming a programmer and wants to keep refining the Leaf Literature app.