Meet Built By Me Founder Vitor Silva  


Article by Karen Kwong

Photography by Karen Kwong, Stock, and Provided

Over the years, I provided many commercial photoshoot services for local businesses. I stay in touch with the owners even after the photoshoots , and what they are doing daily for their businesses and their families always inspire me. In the month we celebrate Dads, I would like to introduce to my readers Vitor Silva - Founder of Built By Me.

Vitor Silva - the brain behind Built By Me

Built by Me is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) learning center located in East Brunswick, NJ. They are dedicated to using STEM / STEAM (the extra "A" stands for Art) technologies as a platform to help children build the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century: creativity, critical thinking, communication, and cooperation, and help them grow into creators. Their STEM programs are designed for kids ages 6 to 12 years old. Programs are project-based and include coding, game design, robotics, 3D design/printing, podcasting, video making, entrepreneurship, and more.

A collaborative model call for Built By Me marketing shoots featuring local kids

When I asked Vitor what inspire him to found Build By Me, he recalled: "When I was a kid, my parents did not have money to buy me toys and there was no Netflix. I spent my free time outside playing with friends. We need to build our own toys and use our creativity to spend a good time and not get in trouble. Looking back, the best time for me was the process of building the toys and using our creativity to spend a good time with friends. I have great memories of making many cool projects such as wood racing kart with bearing wheels and use pieces of old tires as breaks."

"Now that I have kids, I realized that the kids don't have the same experiences of using their imagination and old materials to come up with new toys and opportunities to spend time with other kids. I needed a safe place where kids can be creators, not just consumers."

Left: My middle daughter, who is a fan of Built By Me's Scratch Game Design class, visited their booth at East Brunswick's 2019 4th of July Celebration event.

Right: Vitor and his staff, greeted by "Bruiser" the Bear, at East Brunswick High School's 2020 Physics Ed Ball Event.

Like many other small businesses, Built by Me was impacted by COVID-19 as well. They had to close their state of the art STEM learning center and cancel all of their programs at schools and recreation centers. They converted many of the most popular programs to virtual with live instructors. They also had to cancel many of the Spring and Summer camps and create new programs that can be taught virtually.

"We need to test and train our instructors to be comfortable with the new way to teach via Zoom."

Screenshots of Built By Me's Live Online Classes

Built By Me's live online programs are taught by educators experienced in teaching and engineering. Classes are small-sized with 5 students per coach, allowing personalized learning. Topics cover project-based learning with subjects young engineers love such as Scratch MIT, Pygame with Python, and Web Design.

Despite the impacts on business, Vitor didn't forget to continue give back to the community with his skills. He had made several batches of 3D printed face shields and donated them to healthcare workers when there was a shortage in PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) at the front line.

Putting their 3D printer in good use during COVID-19

Balancing work and family life has never been easy for any small business owners. One strategy is to allow work-life integration by identifying synergies between business and family, and align interests of all individuals. Vitor is able to find such synergy between his STEM education business and parenting through coaching his own kids, 9-year-old twin couple, hands-on STEM projects and participating in their scout programs.

Vitor participating in his kids' Scout projects

One thing that really blows me away is how Vitor blends STEM fun with home baking! 

Vitor refers them as his favorite STEM projects books

Vitor shares his homemade bagels process

Speaking of quarantine life: "It has been a challenge to have everyone working on a schedule but we are very fortunate that our kids can do most of the school work independently which allows me and my wife to work most of the day," said Vitor.

"The silver lining is that we spend all the time together and do a lot of outdoor activities together."

Vitor's kids are engaged in many activities in a virtual mode

Vitor is hoping they can resume in-person classes soon. Currently, they are offering virtual STEM Summer camps starting on June 22. This summer students can Mix & Match STEM and tutoring. They can build a balanced summer program choosing from STEM classes (by Built by Me) and/or math and reading/writing tutoring (by JEI Learning). To find out more information and ways to save click here.

Title image is from Pixabay. Vitor's headshot and the STEM kids group photo were taken by Karen (the author) during Built By Me's marketing shoot. Other pictures in the article are either taken from Built By Me's social media sites or provided by Vitor, and with his permission to share.

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