Build Something From Nothing: $100 Million Tech Opportunity Fund Launches At White House Today

Build Something From Nothing: $100 Million Tech Opportunity Fund Launches At White House Today
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Our journey to create inclusive and equitable opportunities in tech for all.

CodeStart Java graduates at TechSquare Labs in Atlanta, GA.

CodeStart Java graduates at TechSquare Labs in Atlanta, GA.

Today, we scale and will be formally announcing the latest iteration of our coding initiative at The Whitehouse as a part of President Obama’s Computer Science for All Initiative. Here’s the White House Fact Sheet; and here’s Megan Smith, CTO, USA announcing our new Tech Opportunity Fund.

The ideation, startup, launch and now scale of our coding initiatives have been a priority ever since I first sat down with John Saddington on April 3, 2014 at Opportunity Hub’s first campus in Atlanta, GA to discuss ways that we could partner together.

Why? Since the release and launch of Kingonomics, we’ve been focused on discovering and implementing the quickest paths to accelerate the close of our nation’s racial wealth gap; and based upon our exposure, experience and diligence, there are at least three ways that we know to create opportunities that can create wealth for sure.

Become a software developer. Just look at the data regarding the related salaries.

Start, build, grow, scale and exit a tech company.

Invest in the startups that grow, scale and are acquired.

I am sure there are more, but for the purposes of today’s announcement, we’ll start here, as these three pathways are interrelated.

Here’s our journey to date:

Our pitch.

Saddington introduced me to Peter Barth, Cofounder & CEO, The Iron Yard via email during the Summer of 2014. As serendipity would have it, Peter and I just so happened to be in Washington, DC on the same day. Peter was in town on business; and I was speaking at NABA.

We were in the lobby of the newly opened Marriott Marquis when I pitched Peter on my vision to create a platform that would create the next generation of software developers and entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities committed to utilizing their newly developed programming and problem solving skills to destroy their reality of poverty, close the wealth gap for themselves and focus on building companies that would enable others to do the same.

We agreed that it was a grand plan.

Our pilot.

To start, in the Spring of 2015, I asked The Iron Yard to fund $60,000 in full and partial scholarships at its Atlanta campus. They said yes. We announced the partnership during SXSW. It was a success. Eight students had the opportunity to attend The Iron Yard’s Front End Bootcamp during the Summer of 2015. These students successfully completed their bootcamps and are now working as software developers and building startups.

Our minimum viable product.

In September 2015, I met with Michael Sterling, former Executive Director of The City of Atlanta’s Workforce Development Agency. With a Post-it note as our canvas, we mapped out the first workforce program of its kind in the nation that would train “opportunity youth” as junior software developers, corporate innovators and entrepreneurs. CodeStart, a year-long, residence based intensive training program was born. Michael and I were intentional about launching the program in Q116 or the first quarter of 2016; and it would take a multiplicity of stakeholders to make it happen. The Iron Yard would teach Java. TechSquare Labs would house the cohort and provide corporate innovation and entrepreneurial training. Gifted Education Foundation would provide career readiness. The Memo would provide salary negotiation. The Community Foundation for Financial Literacy would provide financial literacy. Georgia Community Clinic would provide mental health support. Approximately 100 youth attended the open house; and 15 students, ages 18-24 were admitted into the inaugural cohort. Seven of the students are working in paid internships at Emory University’s Biomedical Informatics Lab, Morehouse College of Medicine and PeachDish; and we’re working on creating apprenticeships and job opportunities for the entire cohort now.

Our traction.

After hearing about TechHire from Megan Smith, our nation’s Chief Technology Officer, Michael Sterling and I decided to continue working together to make Atlanta a Tech Hire City. We worked with The Iron Yard and local employers like Home Depot, Pindrop, SOLTECH and The Weather Channel to make this happen. Atlanta was designated as a TechHire City on March 9, 2016. The next day as we were headed to SXSW, we submitted our TechHire grant application to the Department of Labor. On June 27th, we were informed that Atlanta had been the recipient of two grants totaling $7.6 million which would provide up to 1,000 young adults with software development training over the next four years. This initiative has the potential to create approximately $50 million in annual economic value to Atlanta’s technology economy.

Our scale.

After confirming that Megan Smith would visit TechSquare Labs in February 2016, I immediately called Peter to attend. He flew in with his board chair a day before the TechHire roundtable. We met in our front conference room and we got right to the point. I pitched Peter on scaling our successful pilot funding scholarships at every one of their current and future campuses. He listened with intense passion and reiterated his ongoing and evolving commitment to creating a meaningful and authentic diversity and inclusion initiative at The Iron Yard and beyond. After about an hour and a half, we concluded our meeting. That evening, I received an email from Peter committing to this idea and outlining a way forward together.

Today, we’re back in Washington, DC - a little over two years since Peter and I met in that hotel lobby - to announce the largest commitment to train people of color, women, veterans and citizens with disabilities with barriers to opportunity for the technology jobs of today and tomorrow.

Today, that commitment has manifested as the Tech Opportunity Fund.

Over the next five years, the Tech Opportunity Fund aims to award $100 million in diversity scholarships to in-need students from groups that are currently underrepresented in the tech workforce including women and minorities. The Iron Yard has committed $40 million in full-tuition scholarships to the school’s immersive programs over the next five years, Code Fellows has committed $5 million in full-tuition scholarships, and Operation HOPE will serve as the Fund’s financial literacy and entrepreneur training partner.

Applications for Tech Opportunity Fund scholarships will open by January 2017. To receive a scholarship, applicants will need to first be accepted into a participating code school through that program’s standard admissions process. After their acceptance, students will apply for a Tech Opportunity Fund scholarship through the website, Scholarships will be awarded to qualified students on a first come, first served basis.

Scholarships will be available on all of The Iron Yard and Code Fellows’ campuses:

Atlanta, GA; Durham, NC; Orlando, FL; Austin, TX; Greenville, SC; Portland, OR; Charleston, SC; Houston, TX; Raleigh, NC; Charlotte, NC; Indianapolis, IN; Salt Lake City, UT; Cincinnati, OH; Las Vegas, NV; San Antonio, TX; Columbia, SC; Minneapolis, MN; Seattle, WA; Dallas, TX; Nashville, TN; Tampa, FL; Detroit, MI; New York, NY; Washington, DC

The creation of the Tech Opportunity Fund is unprecedented. By far, it is the largest tangible strategic financial commitment to diversify the technical talent and workforce that will drive our nation toward an inclusive innovation economy for all. At its full potential, thousands will be trained as software developers adding hundreds of millions of annual economic value to our technology economy and society.

To this end, I am humbled to see a brief pitch in our conference room evolve into the largest commitment of its kind to date; and I look forward to working with all of the stakeholders to ensure that these scholarships are distributed with integrity and authenticity.

This is more than a diversity and inclusion initiative.

This is more than simply helping minorities and women get a seat at the table.

This is producing a generation of Americans that will build their own tables and extend seats to others to join.

This is ultimately about access to equity, ownership and dignity.

This is a poverty disrupting, wealth creation and community rebuilding movement.

To reach the goal of awarding $100 million in scholarships, the Tech Opportunity Fund is calling on employers (corporates and startups), code schools, foundations and civic organizations across the country to join the fund by providing funding for scholarships, creating hiring programs and contributing resources that will support scholarship recipients.

This is my definitive purpose and prayer. Learn more here.


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