Meet Kalai Sankar, founder of Shiva Robotics

Woman standing next to a robotKalai Sankar is the founder of Shiva Robotics Academy, a robotics education institution for students in grades K-8. A Carnegie Mellon Certified Robotics Instructor and professional LEGO educator, she has introduced after-school robotics programs in 18 Title I schools in Jacksonville. She has partnered with organizations like Renaissance Jax, Communities in Schools, and Girl Scouts of Gateway Council, to help hundreds of Florida students compete in tournaments nationally and internationally.  Kalai is the recent recipient of Florida’s Best Robotics Coach award and Jacksonville Business Journal’s Innovator in Education Award.

Where did the idea for Shiva Robotics Academy come from?

I was a stay at home mom for a number of years and I slowly began to realize that while I was watching Barney, the world was changing and evolving around me!  As a mom with two daughters I had been blogging about my parenting experiences and taking on various part time jobs. The first time I took a full time job was in the summer, so I needed to find a camp for my girls where their minds would be engaged.  I realized quite quickly that it wasn’t making financial sense to pay for camp based on my income, so I gathered the friends of my daughters and started conducting the camp myself.  I guess you could say that necessity was the mother of invention!

What are some of the activities you provide at Shiva Robotics Academy?

We offer a whole range of activities. The daylong robotics camps are our most popular.  We also offer weekly classes that consist of an hour and a half one day a week where any level of robotics learner can learn to build and program a simple robot to see what all the excitement is about.  This is a three-month course – 12 classes, after which students take an online exam to confirm what they have learned.  When they pass we ask these students to try out for the Robotics Teams.

With spring break and summer around the corner, what are some of the events you have coming up?

Spring camp for grades K – 8 will run two different sessions – March 11-15 and March 18-22.  We will have a thematic activity each day. For example, the first day is about animatronics, so kids will build robots that look like animals – spiders, snakes, elephants, etc.  Starting in June we will again run Summer Camp over the entire summer with each week focusing on a different theme.

How has the FSBDC at UNF helped you take this idea from where you are now and help you build your dream?

The SBDC has been very helpful – from the moment I stepped in the UNF office there were so many people there to offer assistance.  I felt reassured that I could make it with their help.  I first met with Don Zavesky, PTAC, who initially showed me all sorts of government opportunities that we could bid for and contracts I could win – he helped me see the bigger picture where I could take my business and helped me envision what could happen 10 years down the road. He then referred me to Linda Teza Kulka.  Linda has been more like a therapist at times – our first session I was sharing all my anxieties!  She is helping me create a master plan and helping me understand all the functions of the business that I will need to pay attention to as the company continues to grow. Having no business background, this has truly been eye opening and with this level of support I have much more confidence in the future.  In 10 years I will remember that the SBDC helped me build the foundation that allowed me to reach my goal.

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