SoLa Technology and Entrepreneurship Center
The SoLa Technology and Entrepreneurship Center, the marquee project of SoLa I CAN Foundation, aims to train and inspire a new generation of Black and brown technology professionals, leaders and entrepreneurs from South LA. South LA is a technology access desert, placing its Black and brown youth at a systemic disadvantage to accessing lucrative technology industry jobs and careers. The state-of-the-art center aims to close this gap by offering free technical and entrepreneurship training in foundational and emerging tech fields.
What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?
K-12 STEAM Education
In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?
In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?
Pilot or new project, program, or initiative
What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?
The lack of access to tech at home combined with underinvestment in public schools have created an urgent need to bridge the digital divide, invest in STEAM programming and provide new access points for Black and brown youth in South Los Angeles. 30% of students don’t graduate high school. 64% of residents have no access to technology at home. In 2018, SoLa I CAN found that 9 of the 10 largest South LA high schools lacked access to tech related electives. Furthermore, 47% of South LA households have no broadband internet connection making it the least internet connected region in LA County. It is well understood that technology access for K-12 students directly impacts academic performance, which in turn affects higher education achievement, earning potential, and life-long financial stability. These systemic access gaps in South LA place Black and Latinx youth at a structural disadvantage in accessing economic opportunity. The Center aims to help close this gap.
Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.
We are expanding youth programming and bridging the digital divide with South LA’s first Technology and Entrepreneurship Center, a state-of-the-art 13,000 sq ft safe space based in the heart of South LA to spark our community’s next generation of diverse tech workers and entrepreneurs. At the Center, Black and brown youth are able to learn skills in coding, video game development, graphic design, robotics, video and music production, entrepreneurship and more. Phase one of development launched virtually in July 2020, a brick-and-mortar pilot in 2021 and phas three in January 2022. The full facility will open in August 2022. At the Center, youth utilize sophisticated equipment and computers, and full video and music production studios that students would not otherwise have access to. There, they will be able to explore their full creative potential while learning tech and entrepreneurship skills from experts in the business sector. We have developed partnerships with schools, women and minority-owned organizations and corporations to provide hands-on experiences, mentors and internships. The Center is positioned to be a leader in tech education and workforce development, bringing new opportunities for 21st Century skills-building to S. L.A. We are currently seeking funding to expand our STEAM programming free of charge to more than 1000 students annually as we believe the Center will be a game changer that will spark creativity and innovation in our students.
Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.
Our vision for LA County is built upon inclusive and sustainable economic development where everyone - no matter their race, socio-economic position or geography - has access to the region’s leading STEAM industries and high wage careers. The Center builds new educational pathways towards enacting this vision by helping LA County residents access new and inclusive opportunities via the Center’s expansive after-school and weekend entrepreneurship and technology focused education programs and partnerships, directly contributing to higher educational achievement, high school graduation and college attendance. We see South LA, Watts, Compton, and similar neighborhoods fully integrated into the broader economy, producing small businesses and startups integrated with large corporations and emerging industries in the region. Through educational achievement we will see new wealth-creation employment opportunities, business ownership and creation.
What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?
SoLa I CAN is a data driven operation and the Center’s impact is recorded in pre- and post-participation surveys, which track technical and psychological impacts. Additionally, impact data from partners (including several higher education institutions) are shared. Since our virtual launch, 372 students have entered the program. Impact data shows 80% expressing interest in additional course study. Also, 72% expressed interest in pursuing careers in fields they discovered at the Center. 83% reported positive psychological effects (such as, new self esteem trust and stress management skills)., Jennifer, 17, told staff, “I will use this curriculum later in college to major in a STEM course that includes coding. I plan to use the analytical and problem solving abilities in the real world.” Another student Jehu, 12, loved his coding class because “it is a new experience for all and a new world to explore.”
Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?
Direct Impact: 1,000
Indirect Impact: 4,000
Describe the specific role of the partner organization(s) in the project, program, or initiative.
LAUSD Central District: The Center is in talks to become an authorized curriculum partner. Otis College of Art & Design: SoLa I CAN is the first partner of Otis in South LA, which provides classes in graphic, animation and video game design. Hidden Genius Project Black-led educatiol non-profit providing coding and computer education programming.