Empowering Youth from Underserved Communities to Launch a Career in Tech
April 5, 2022
California Community Foundation (CCF) recognizes the role of the LA tech community in building a future where all Angelenos have the opportunity to contribute to the well-being of our region. Which is why CCF has been excited to support the work of LA-Tech.org, a nonprofit started by tech founders and CEOs of LA homegrown tech companies that aims to expand economic opportunities and career pathways for young people from underserved communities.
In the Fall of 2020, amidst the pandemic and with job security and employment in dire straits, LA-Tech.org Executive Director, Sean Arian and CCF Board Member and General Partner at boutique seed firm Fika Ventures, Eva Ho got together to develop a plan to help low-income students of color gain access to tech sector jobs.
Having collaborated on several projects together over the years, Eva and Sean quickly came up with a digital event to connect students with speakers who worked in tech. The goal of engaging young people and having them enroll in tech internships following the event – failed. That led Eva and Sean to develop in December of 2020 the Fika Tech Career Academy, which would be informed by the tech industry with a curriculum dedicated to placing graduates into paid internships at tech companies upon completion.
Eva’s inspiration for the Academy was tied in part to her experience growing up in a low-income household with non-English speaking immigrant parents who could not offer career guidance. The Academy had to be focused on opening doors for highly skilled students who lacked opportunity at the beginning of their tech careers.
During his time as director of economic development for LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Sean noticed that as economic inequality widened in LA, pathways into high wage jobs were unavailable to LA’s low–income communities. He found that one of the key roadblocks was not lack of skills, but lack of exposure to those high growth, high pay industries. He realized that they needed something that helped close the experience gap, and with Eva’s partnership and a few brainstorming sessions, that seed of an idea grew into the Fika Tech Career Academy.
What makes the Academy unique is that it taps into Fika staff’s skills as venture investors to help students become career-ready, as well as into LA-Tech.org’s relationships with local non-profits and educational institutions. Gathering Fika staff and external faculty members who were skilled in Product Management, Marketing and Sales, Eva and Sean created a 120-hour career development course for 20 students. Through their partnerships with local nonprofits, community organizations and educational institutions, LA-Tech.org leveraged their extensive network to recruit the student participants.
During the Academy, students were tasked with coming up with an idea for a product to bring to market and each week they went through exercises on how to define, market and sell their product. The goal was for students to develop career aspirations in tech through industry-based learning and projects, mentorship, and the development of their own tech network.
A core component of the Academy is inspiration. Fika’s choice of faculty had to inspire this next generation of tech leaders to achieve their dreams. As a result, top executives from companies such as Roblox, Robinhood, Sonos, DeepMind, Vendition, Snap Inc., Facebook, Patient Pop and Google X were selected as faculty.
To make sure the Academy was financially accessible for students, LA-Tech.org worked with LA County’s Department of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services to secure stipends for students to participate in the program. This was to ensure that 100% of the students were from low-income backgrounds. Another important component of the program was external volunteers coming in from LA’s tech community. Companies such as Cornerstone OnDemand, Blackline and Fernish helped the students during the Academy in a mentorship role.
Overall, the Academy was successful and 70% of students are currently employed in organizations such as Cornerstone OnDemand, NASA JPL, Miller Ink and Snap Inc.
Luis Bravo, a 23-year-old student at Santa Monica College and participant of the Academy, that was placed as a Sales Lead Researcher at a fintech company, Mesh Payments stated: “This internship has taught me a lot about sales and marketing and how a startup operates. Overall, it has been great working with the sales team at Mesh. I now have much deeper knowledge of email marketing, prospecting, and overall, just about the whole sales cycle.”
Fika Ventures and LA-Tech.org are planning to launch two more of these academies in 2022 to support a total of 100-150 students from low-income backgrounds. The first kicked off in January of this year.
“There is so much untapped talent in LA and this Academy is a first-of-its-kind program to reach LA communities that have been disconnected from opportunities in tech and support talented young people in carving out their careers in the industry,” said Sean. “It serves as a real invitation for tech companies and VC firms alike to step up and make sure the industry is as fully representative and as diverse as LA is.”
CCF and LA-Tech.org understand the need to build bridges between the tech sector and communities throughout LA who have been historically disconnected to opportunities in tech. To address issues of equity and create economic opportunity for all, we need the participation of the tech community in giving, activism and volunteerism.
If you are interested in learning more about CCF’s partnership with LA-Tech.org and how your tech company can make an impact locally, contact Terri Mosqueda, VP of Development and Donor Relations at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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