Josh Lieberman has successfully built multiple startups from the ground up — with milestones such as founding the rapidly-expanding QA software solutions company QASymphony to growing the team at his current product development and testing venture, KMS Technology, to nearly 700 employees. While the startup life is a busy one, for Josh, philanthropy has always been a priority.
Lieberman uses his professional resources and startup acumen to support non-profit organizations in the tech sphere. After learning about Per Scholas, a national non-profit organization that offers free tech education to un- or underemployed residents, he helped get the Atlanta chapter off the ground. In the past year they have graduated more than 80 people and created employment opportunities for residents on the Westside of Atlanta, including Vine City, Castleberry Hill, and other nearby neighborhoods.
“I was immediately attracted to Per Scholas because it is run like a business,” says Lieberman. “It’s very metrics-driven and goal-oriented. And they’re providing life-changing resources to those who need it. I saw the results firsthand.”
Due to his support of Per Scholas since 2011, Lieberman was elected to their National Board of Directors and was named their Atlanta chairperson this month.
Lieberman talks to Hypepotamus about why the Per Scholas program is essential for Atlanta, his biggest challenges, and why the Atlanta startup community has to prioritize inclusivity.
What are you most focused on now (professionally)?
I feel very fortunate now that I’m in a position to build up a great team to help run KMS Technology. We’ve been able to bring in more people to run sales, marketing and the delivery side of the business. This enables me to pull myself up and focus on more strategic initiatives — ensuring KMS remains successful. I can also dedicate more time and energy to other ventures we want to incubate internally and bring to market, like Kobiton (a new mobile device cloud platform we’re launching.) Lastly, I have more time to work with other entrepreneurs to learn how we can work with them and explore outside entities we might want to invest in
What is Per Scholas?
Per Scholas is a national nonprofit that offers free, high-quality technology education to un- or underemployed residents who make around $10,000 a year. It has graduated more than 6,000 people through its training program, now in six markets across the United States.
Individuals are put through a rigorous vetting process to identify those who would be successful in the program. Then, selected applicants participate in an intensive 10-week training program. After graduating, Per Scholas helps them find jobs in the technology community, where they make between $30,000-$35,000. That’s more than a 300-percent increase in their annual income. It’s a transformative experience for the individual and their families.
How did you learn about it?
Back in 2011, QASymphony had just landed its first large client, Barclays Bank. Our client approached us about buying a table at a gala in New York City to benefit a nonprofit organization. As any good vendor would do, we bought the table and I got on a plane to New York City.
Throughout the night, I heard first-hand stories about how people’s lives were transformed by Per Scholas. I met deserving people who were living the results of other people investing in them.
Soon after, I approached the Per Scholas national leadership team about opening an Atlanta chapter. We collectively worked on it for a few years, lobbying different foundations in Atlanta to ensure this new chapter would be successful. We launched the Atlanta chapter more than a year ago now. What excites me is that I helped lay the foundation, and as long as Per Scholas is here, it will continue to pay off by dramatically impacting people’s lives for many years to come.
Why did you decide to bring the Per Scholas program here to Atlanta? What does it offer that the city did not have before?
There are other workforce development programs throughout Atlanta but none like Per Scholas. I brought Per Scholas to Atlanta because I’m here and I believed our city, our employers and our residents would benefit.
I was able to meet the people behind Per Scholas. I believe in it. I’ve seen the direct impact it brings to people. Everyone is not afforded access to an education and a well-paying job. This is a chance for these students to really redirect their life.
What was your biggest challenge in bringing the program here?
Our biggest challenge in bringing Per Scholas to Atlanta was getting the initial funding. We were fortunate to get national funding from the Kellogg Foundation. The Blank Foundation came in on a local level. We are focused on helping the Blank Foundation build up the westside community and setting up Per Scholas in Westside Works.
Our biggest challenge now is finding employers and building strategic relationships with them.
What other philanthropic efforts are you involved in?
KMS Technology is a proud supporter of Pledge 1%, a corporate philanthropy movement dedicated to making the community a key stakeholder in every business. As part of the program, KMS commits to philanthropic efforts through our business by pledging 1% of product, 1% of equity, and 1% of employee time to improve communities around the world. We also introduced QASymphony to the organization.
We adopt an assisted living care facility every year for Christmas through the Second Wind Dreams organization. Our team brings gifts to the residents and spends the day with them. We plan on participating in 48in48 this October. We’ll help build 48 websites for 48 nonprofits in 48 hours. We can utilize our Vietnam team (and the time difference) to help with testing the websites. We took our first company-wide day to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity last month and have more planned.
How does Atlanta weave into your story? What do you believe the city offers startup/tech talent that is unique?
I moved to Atlanta in 1994 and never looked back. This city is a tremendous location to start a business. It’s is an unbelievably accessible place. Executives and entrepreneurs are always open to meeting. They are interested in helping. Because of this accessible culture in Atlanta, it’s enabled me to navigate the city and build a great network with strong relationships. We are also fortunate to have Georgia Tech and other great universities, and the low cost of living Atlanta offers helps attract talent and deepens the pool of technical talent.
I’m also getting more excited about the fact that the Atlanta investment community is evolving and becoming more open to rolling the dice on early-stage ventures. It’s exciting to be a part of this ecosystem!
Why do you think the technology scene in Atlanta needs to be conscious of being inclusive? How are your efforts helping this?
First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do. Everyone isn’t afforded privilege, like getting to go to the best high school and then moving on ta great university. Not everyone is born into a situation with a clear path through high school, college graduation and then a job. We need to help people get there.
Many people try to be inclusive as they believe it’s great for their business to have different views and perspectives. That’s admirable and certainly gives new people opportunities they may not have had otherwise, and I’m all for that. But, I’m more about focusing on doing what’s right first. Help develop and grow people who may not have previously had the opportunity so that they can “have a seat at the table.” If you do what’s right in developing these people, then you will get those perspectives. There are a lot of smart people out there who just haven’t been given the right chance. Give them the opportunity to be successful and you will be successful.
What’s coming up in the next year that you’re excited about?
Now that we’ve brought in sales and marketing teams, I’m excited to watch them continue to grow the business and thrive. I’m also really pumped about the launch of our new business, Kobiton. I believe we’ve created something special that solves a real problem for developers and companies and will help them get quality mobile apps and products to the market more quickly.
We’ve also brought in Jasmine Miller, a new director for Per Scholas Atlanta. I’m eager to partner with her to continue to grow Per Scholas locally.