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Durham startup Youth Digital moves to Chapel Hill

Youth Digital is a Durham-based technology education company that has turned the pastime of gaming into an educational experience. Through online classes and after-school programs, students — ages 8 to 14 — learn to create their own video games, apps and other programs.

Due to an increasing demand for more classes, the company has moved from its original location in Durham to Chapel Hill. The new space includes six classrooms, a film studio and 3-D printers.

“Everyone is able to consume technology, but we want to teach kids who can build their own apps,” said Ryan Perlowin, assistant director of summer programs for Youth Digital.

“The move kind of allows us to reach more students here.”

Youth Digital is just one of the many startups that have found their way into the Chapel Hill area.

“Chapel Hill is attractive to startups for two main reasons: a thriving, diverse and educated population plus access to young, energetic talent,” said Patrick Vernon, executive director for UNC’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, in an email.

Jim Kitchen is the founder of 1789 Venture Lab, an incubator that supports students and other entrepreneurs in Orange County with resources such as money, meeting space and mentorship. He said the entrepreneurial spirit of the Triangle is revolutionizing the way UNC classes are being taught.

“It is amazing even in the last five years how across campus the curricular offerings have changed,” Kitchen said. “It’s all very entrepreneurially driven, and it’s fascinating to watch, so much so that the music department has its own incubators.”

Chapel Hill incubators — including LaUNCh Chapel Hill, 1789 and The Cube — house 142 startup businesses in total.

But there wasn’t always venture fever in Chapel Hill.

“I was a student back in Carolina in the ’80s, back when entrepreneurship wasn’t super hot. I started a company when I was an undergraduate, but it wasn’t nearly as much of a startup community as it is now,” Kitchen said.

“It’s changed dramatically during the last five years.”

He said an education-inspired passion for change has influenced the startup movement in Chapel Hill.

“I think there is also a notion that students are taught at the University that they can make a change, that they can specifically affect change, and that’s a great thing because they believe they are empowered to drive this change themselves,” Kitchen said. “That’s incredibly powerful.”

That passion for change is what continues to inspire the growth of Youth Digital.

Since it was founded in 2010, Youth Digital has reached more than 15,000 children in 70 countries. The company’s online classes have had the greatest influence on its growth.

Perlowin said 80 percent of Youth Digital students are enrolled in online courses.

“Online business is scaling really, really quickly,” he said.

“Whatever we do, it all comes back to the fact that we want to teach and inspire this new generation of creators,” Perlowin said.

Youth Digital will host a grand opening party at 7 p.m. today at 311 Providence Road.

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