WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. (WIVB)- Gregg Mojica is the 17-year-old coding expert who turned down a six-figure salary opportunity at Facebook, and is now looking into using his considerable skill and talent to build a better Buffalo. This whiz kid from Williamsville is getting ready to graduate from Canisius High School in the spring, with no shortage of opportunities for his future.
A few months ago, Mojica thought he would have to move to Silicon Valley if he wanted to pursue a career in the technology field, but since he last talked with News 4, he has realized that’s not necessarily true.
“The first thing I’ve learned is that there’s this substantially large tech community here in Buffalo that I was not aware of…. I think there is definitely a way to have a substantial impact whether it be employing people, building a company here and potentially giving Buffalo some news”, explained Mojica about how he might be able to do something positive in Western New York.
Mojica has older entrepreneurs to thank for the opportunities he’s seeing in Buffalo. He recalls watching a movie by Jordan Levy, who founded Ingram Micro and is the former chairman of the Erie Harbor Canal Development Corp.,. “In the movie they talk about a saying people around here used to have ten years ago when everyone was leaving Buffalo, and the joke was that the last one leaving should turn the light off”, said Mojica. He’s thankful that Levy and others have pushed to make a change in the community, helping it to grow.
Another entrepreneur who returned to Buffalo after years away, is Steve Poland. He is the managing director of the Z80 Labs techonology incubator in downtown Buffalo. The incubator hosts entrepreneurs and early-stage digital media companies. Poland found out about Mojica after seeing News 4’s story with the young coder in November, 2015. “I see huge potential for Gregg. I mean he’s a self-taught programmer…. somebody that’s self-motivated that way is fantastic and the fact that he wants to start a business someday, this is what we’re looking for in Buffalo is to create jobs for the future”, said Poland about Mojica. He is now mentoring the young computer coder, and helping to secure funding for a project he’s working on that he believes could lead to a billion dollar business. News 4 will share more about that when they finalize the details.
Mojica is keeping himself busy in the meantime. He is testing his rewards app called “Gradology” at Canisius High School, getting feedback from students and teachers. The app rewards good grades, and he plans to officially launch it once they tweak it based on the data they get from Canisius users. He also says “our goal is to hit up Tech Crunch and a bunch of big Tech Blogs and see what they think too”.
So what about college? That has been the decision Mojica and his family have talked about all year. His parents are in fields that required extensive education (dad is a general surgical pathologist, mom is pediatric neuropsychologist), so the idea of their son foregoing college is not a comfortable one. He was also recently offered the Presidential Scholarship at University at Buffalo, further complicating the decision. “Oh my gosh, we are so thrilled… absolutely thrilled. That’s an incredible opportunity; it’s a 100% free ride, pays for your books, everything it’s amazing”, said Lisa Mojica, Gregg’s mom. She is not shy about voicing her desire for her son to stay close to home, and thinks he could have a big impact on Western New York. She says, “if you go to California and you go to Silicon Valley, you’re kind of a little fish in a very large pond, but if you stay in Bufalo and work here, you may not have a company with a thousand people, but you’d still probably be a pretty big fish in a much smaller pond, so it’ interesting to think about when you’re 17 [years old], the kind of impact you could have… you can tell what bent mom is taking here right?”.
Dad acknowledges that his son is ahead of the game when it comes to planning his future. “This is his passion, so the nice thing is that he’s following it at this age, and when you contrast it with a lot of other kids this age who are still trying to find themselves basically”, he explained.
Gregg has his own concerns about continuing his education, and they center on making any potential investors feel secure in backing his projects. The venture capitalists who are interested in Mojica have brought up the issue of finding balance. ” If [I am] backed, one of the concerns is if I’m inundated with school work and inundated with a company, is that doable? Can I do both simultaneously? I don’t know the answer to that, but [it] has made me question the whole college decision”, said Mojica. If he does go to college, he will likely study something other than computer science, like business or finance, perhaps.