After the first-ever White House Demo Day, Founders of D.C.-based digital platform Phone2Action answered President Obama’s call to promote diversity in entrepreneurship and innovation across the country. In August, Phone2Action announced a $250,000 program to provide tech education to low-income and minority youth in the D.C. area.
The yearlong program will be offered to high school and college aged youth. While some will come from local schools, it’s not mandatory that they’re enrolled in schools or universities. Participants will take in-person and online classes as well as receive mentoring and coaching from tech professionals. They’ll also have the opportunity to build their own mobile application in the company’s lab space.
“By the time a lot of people get to college, they have already decided that they're not interested in technology maybe because they’ve never been introduced to it or they've never tried it. While many universities have programs of varying depths for technology and engineering, most public high schools in the U.S. do not,” says Phone2Action co-founder Patrick Stoddart.
The Phone2Action team, including co-founders Ximena Hartsock and Jeb Ory, is reaching out to local schools and government agencies like the Department of Employment Services to recruit participants through October.
“We already started piloting the program with a young person who has been going through our curriculum and learning from Patrick to create an application that will eventually help him identify his path in technology and become more marketable,” says Hartsock, who managed membership and outreach for a national advocacy organization before starting Phone2Action.
Founded in 2012, Phone2Action has allowed people to easily connect with elected officials through email and social media. The company’s software has been used in more than 3,000 campaigns leading to, it says, hundreds of bills being passed. With clients including Lyft, the Consumer Electronics Association, the American Heart Association and Airlines for America, the company is projected to end this year between $2-$3M in sales.
Following the path of the company, program participants will be introduced to tech careers in open government, communications and civic engagement.
“I think the message we have to send to kids is that they can do it too and they don’t have to wait until they graduate from high school or college to actually start a career or take a stab at an idea that they may have,” says Hartsock, who has been involved in social advocacy campaigns since she was 11.
Stoddard began tinkering with technology at the age of 11 as well, when the internet was coming of age. “Seeing that I could have an impact on that was really inspiring for me and so I just chased after it relentlessly,” he says. “In my early teens, I built websites for anyone who I could possibly build a website for to make enough money to buy my own computer and try new things.”
At 16, he started his first company to solve communications and scheduling problems he experienced as a student.
“I know that I had several friends growing up who would have been just as interested [in technology]. It kind of kills me to think what companies they could have started or what could they be contributing in technology, but they're not because they were never introduced to it properly—nobody ever showed them all the amazing things that you can do with it,” says Stoddard. “I think that’s the case for a lot of people so that’s what we're hoping to accomplish with this.”