In a time where the country’s mantra is to create more jobs, the tech industry has reached an opposing inflection point — according to the non-profit Code.org, there are simply not enough workers to fill technology jobs. By 2020, they estimate there will be one million more computer science-related jobs than students graduating in the field, a $500 billion lost opportunity.
Moreover, the organization calls the digital education gap a civil rights issue, citing that 90 percent of public schools don’t have computer science classes, and female and minority representation is far below national demographic statistics. Since these are stable, high-paying jobs — and data from a recent large-scale study by the Equality of Opportunity Project showed that black males of any socioeconomic group tend to earn less than white males of similar backgrounds — the field’s lack of diversity is troubling.
Though this nationwide phenomenon is well-documented, one might find it hard to believe upon entering a few specific venues at SXSW in Austin. Collectively branded the HBCU@SXSW initiative, during a three-day period over a hundred minority students explored the technology and innovation conference with programming, networking opportunities, and job connections geared especially to them.
The HBCU@SXSW program has traditionally been the biggest touchpoint of its organizing body, the Atlanta-based Opportunity Hub (OHUB). Founded by investor and author Rodney Sampson, OHUB is a platform that builds inclusive ecosystems through events, programming and education. The ultimate goal is to provide underrepresented youth with exposure and education early on to expand economic opportunities.
Though many of the students they took to HBCU@SXSW were already accomplished for their age by any measure of success — a representative group at one OHUB-sponsored panel attended MIT and Harvard and had interned at airbnb, Google, and BCG – the message from OHUB leaders throughout the conference was that upward mobility for underrepresented youth is never assured. HBCU@SXSW addressed this issue directly with companies, aiming to ensure commitments that they would support students through internships and mentoring beyond the SXSW experience.
At this year’s conference OHUB also announced a number of new programs that will expand their reach across the country and throughout the year.
One such program is OHUB@Campus. Students and faculty at more than 60 schools will launch their own campus chapters of the organization.
“Content wise, the focus is on preparing the students for in demand technology careers, high growth startup entrepreneurship and multi-generational wealth creation. Students receive exclusive access to our technology recruiting opportunities for paid summer and full time work; and access to a suite of high-growth startup entrepreneurship,” says Sampson.
The first two chapters were formed at HBCUs Morehouse College and the Atlanta University Center. Chapters are now being developed at Cornell, Harvard, Old Dominion and MIT, many of them stemming from connections made during SXSW.
It costs $30,000 to maintain a chapter (which includes the ability to send members to future SXSW conferences or other trade shows) and OHUB is working with students to identify fundraising opportunities.
“Going forward, we expect a combination of affluential alumni, student memberships, corporations looking to scale their university relations, and program-related investments from foundations,” says Sampson. For example, Atlanta Hawks player Kent Bazemore is sponsoring a chapter at his alma mater and another university.
Another new program involves hands-on technology training — coding and entrepreneurship bootcamps for minority students.
Sampson is no stranger to this — in 2016 he helped develop CodeStart, a public-private partnership for a fully-funded coding education for underserved youth. Last year, he was part of the announcement of a $100 million fund, #YesWeCode, to allow women and minorities with financial need to attend code school.
Sampson says they have identified educational partners for and plan to launch these bootcamps at HBCU and OHUB@Campus schools, as well as technical colleges and two-year schools, later this year.
“What we do know is that the cost of training one person on a college campus will be significantly less than a stand alone bootcamp. We are open for business and look forward to partnering with companies and foundations that want to fund technology education to students from underestimated, under-tapped and under-sponsored communities,” says Sampson.
“If you look at the unit economics of what companies are paying now to teach new hires the actual skills to do the jobs they have been hired for, it’s less expensive to provide this education and experience prior to full time employment.”
Lastly, the organization is solidifying a number of public partnerships. They will work with the Commerce Department’s Minority Business Development Agency to work together to increase and support minority entrepreneurship. They’re also partnering with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City to create a guide for municipalities to build inclusive ecosystems.
If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is — but Sampson isn’t going at it alone. Opportunity Hub has built a robust board of advisors that includes the aforementioned Bazemore, former U.S. CTO Megan Smith and TechSquare Labs founder and serial entrepreneur Paul Judge. They’re not ignoring the role of cultural figures, either, announcing the young rapper Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, otherwise known as 21 Savage, as an addition to the board.
Now that their commitments have been made and team assembled, they want to make good on their ambitious goals — they’re aiming for 1,000 campus groups in the next five years and an even greater presence at SXSW next year.