How Philadelphia Businesses Can Help Create a Diverse, Equitable Tech Ecosystem

November 8, 2021

In 2017, two Black high school students met at Coded by Kids, a nonprofit that uses tech and innovation education to fight inequity. Our goal is to not only grow skills among underrepresented students, but to also change mindsets. So it was no surprise when, after a few years of learning coding, design and product management, they decided to take their skills to the next level. Now, during their senior years at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel, these ambitious young men are looking for seed money to grow their startup, and they are confident they’ll secure it. So are we.

When two young Black men in Philadelphia expect to be able to raise millions of dollars for their young company — despite the fact that only 1.2 percent of the $147 billion in venture capital invested in U.S. startups through the first half of this year went to Black entrepreneurs — that shows we’re making real change. Instead of it seeming out of reach, the entrepreneurial and startup process has become normalized.

This type of tangible mindset shift was the impetus for launching 1Philadelphia.

Too often when underrepresented youth pursue positions in the tech workforce, their training is short-term and faces low expectations from the start. Programs are narrowly focused on preparing them to be employees even if they have the drive and ability to be employers. This narrow focus means talented underrepresented young people never get to go as far as they should, and the city misses out on what they could potentially build.

If we want to really affect the economic mobility of students of color and their families, while also fulfilling talent needs for local businesses, we need to dig deeper. For the last year, 1Philadelphia has taken an entirely new approach to ensuring a job pathway for budding tech talent. It’s connecting funders, employers, schools, and community organizations to build an equitable tech and innovation ecosystem to help young people succeed while simultaneously diversifying the tech talent pipeline. From elementary school, middle school, high school, and college to careers, we’re building deliberate connections for Philadelphians to grow their skill sets and net worth.

With an initial investment of nearly $1 million from Comcast NBCUniversal, Bank of America, and the Lenfest Foundation, over the past year 1Philadelphia has been laying the groundwork for this equitable system and network that speaks to the education, resources, and support Philadelphians need to find success in tech and innovation. We’ve been able to establish and launch programs that will support over 250 underserved students a year between the ages of 8 and 24. This includes Plain Sight Capital, a $50 million venture capital fund to support underrepresented founders. This is currently the only BIPOC-led and BIPOC-owned venture capital firm in the city.

Our shared vision of creating 1Philadelphia has come a long way in one year, and we’re looking forward to everything to come in our second year. But we’re just getting started. Driving systemic change and creating an equitable tech ecosystem requires all of us to be in it for the long haul. It’s not easy work, but it’s necessary, and the long-term return on investment could change paradigms for hundreds of young Black and brown innovators and entrepreneurs for good.

At a time when partnerships are the rallying cry for success, we hope that more business leaders will join us and become involved with 1Philadelphia so every student, no matter their color or zip code, is able to fully participate in the future economy. In turn, our city could become the equitable tech capital of the world.

Sylvester Mobley is Founder and CEO of Coded by Kids, Dalila Wilson-Scott is EVP and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast NBCUniversal, and Jim Dever is Market President at Bank of America.

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November 8, 2021