Russ: Hi I’m Russ Capper and this is BusinessMakers USA brought to you by Insperity, inspiring business performance. Checking in today from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida where my guest is Thomas Brady, Managing Director of the South Florida Accelerator. Thomas welcome to the show.
Thomas: Pleasure to be here Russ, thank you very much.
Russ: You bet. So tell us, give us your version of the South Florida Accelerator.
Thomas: To keep the story short and concise the South Florida Accelerator is a multi-innovation aggregator – you could say multi-disciplinary. The best way to describe it is we partner with multi-national corporations – or big companies – we find out what their valid pain points are because we’re a big company at the end of the day, it’s a very validated pain point, then we go out and we source the solution for them. That can either be the entrepreneur, the team or the company, or we’ll create it from scratch.
You’re bringing that company in to our life cycle of our accelerator. And then typically within 26 to 36 months you’ll actually be acquired by one of our strategics or we’ll offer up your product into their sales pipeline, increasing the maturation of the company, and at the end of the day essentially removing risk at the whole investment process that comes with the accelerator model.
Russ: Wow you’re a good explainer.
Thomas: I do my best.
Russ: Thanks. You got on our radar because I think you’ve also kind of specialized in the nonprofit portion of the South Florida Accelerator called Innovation Florida, and championing this program called Code Schools; tell us about that.
Thomas: Before I get into Code Schools a little bit I’ll touch base on Innovation Florida. Innovation Florida is essentially the innovation ecosystem driver here in Florida. Whenever we came down here and we started the South Florida Accelerator we recognized that there’s this whole ecosystem that’s missing X amount of different factors and so here we are filling those factors. Innovation Florida is very good at cross-border collaboration, also education curriculum change and in addition to that corporate advocacy. And it works heavily within the state of Israel and then that kind of brings it into Code Schools.
So what we have identified specifically in this market is that there is a huge lack of talent, to be as blunt as possible, when it comes to technical talent or more importantly just management talent. We rank number 1 in the nation in terms of startup creation but I believe we’re number 36 in terms of startup maturation, and a lot of that comes down to the talent in the area which is – not to be too negative about it, but at the end of the day we always want to be moving forward.
And so what we identified is if we could start teaching high school students how to code that’s going to be the future drivers of not only our ecosystem, but also our portfolio companies that we’re looking to work with. Unfortunately college students are already a little too late in the age gap for us. Our venture capital fund that we’re also starting in 2018 is also looking to be sourcing our talent from this pipeline you could say, and long story short if we can get high school students learning how to code now by the time they actually potentially go to college or they don’t go to college they’ll be junior web developers and they’ll be off on the path of entrepreneurship and innovation.
Russ: That’s smart, I love that idea. And so you would make it sort of an elective course in high school or mandatory?
Thomas: We work directly with the school districts and each school district operates a little bit differently. Ove the summer we had a completely immersive program and we’re looking to incorporate that as well into local schools. So essentially what we’ll do is we’ll work with the districts, we identify a couple of high schools and then we go instantly into the high schools and it’s pretty mandatory for the students. Whenever we go in and we talk to them they’re very, very excited and they really do understand the opportunity that’s ahead of them.
Russ: Wow so when you say you had the summer immersive program meaning you had students in there and you were teaching them at summer school.
Thomas: So I don’t want to toot our own horn a little bit but we created this program roughly in May of this past year and within 2 months we had 17 to 20 students learning how to code in our Ft. Lauderdale office. And they’re in there Monday through Thursday, learning how to code 7 hours a day and within 8 weeks they are capable of being junior web developers and we’re also bringing in some of our strategic partners, some C-level executives coming in and talking and really emphasizing the fact of you’re building your technical prowess but at the same time you have to have the soft skills to be successful in your future. And so that’s really what we bring to the table; on top of just bringing in coding we bring in real world experience and in addition to that I always typically give a little bit of a small talk on how to be entrepreneurial. Because if you’re learning how to code you should already be thinking about your next business.
Russ: So soft skills, tell us more about that. What do you mean?
Thomas: So soft skills – I’m not a big fan of stereotypes however I’m pretty sure anybody who’s worked with a lot of developers in their life have identified that they’re not normally the most outgoing. They’re very good at what they do, which is phenomenal, but they don’t have the best business acumen. So if you have a developer who understands the business and more importantly understands the market and the customer, then that’s fast-track to upper management and that’s fast-track to a wonderful lifestyle. And so that’s what we’re really trying to produce here in this area is well business-acumenned coders and developers.
Russ: That’s cool because at the end of the day if you’re a coder it all integrates with everything in the business so you need to have the whole picture.
Thomas: Absolutely, absolutely.
Russ: I’m curious who does the teaching in public schools – coding teaching?
Thomas: What we do is we bring in our own teachers within the school systems. Obviously we make sure everything is okay with everybody, everything is kosher, but it’s been phenomenal. We have teachers actually teaching right now at Boyd Anderson and Coral Springs High School and we brought them in through Code Schools as an organization.
Russ: Are they certified teachers in the public education program or are they just such good teachers of coding it doesn’t even matter?
Thomas: Each different is a little bit different. Each district essentially that we have worked with as of right now as long as they have the technical prowess and kind of the industry certifications which have been provided from their own coding past experiences then they have been very open and we have been able to implement them within it. However they are all approved, background-checked, everything, the districts have the final say and we work hand in hand with them to make sure that we get the best teachers possible.
Russ: So as you can tell from my questions I think it’s a fabulous idea but it’s very challenging too. Coding changes so rapidly; what you’re learning today you’re not going to be learning a year from now so how do you address that?
Thomas: That’s actually a phenomenal point. Whenever I was in college my first computer science class – I’m not a computer scientist – but my teacher actually mentioned the same thing, after every 6 months you’re going to have to re-educate yourself. That essentially put up a barrier of entry for me to get into computer science so I studied international affairs and entrepreneurship. However that’s one point that I always try to iterate to these students is you’re on a lifelong journey of self-betterment. You can never stop learning today, you can ever stop learning in 6 months because technology is rapidly increasing.
I think the way I like to tell them is you can learn how to type, you can learn how to manipulate Microsoft Word and though Microsoft speak phenomenally well, but the future is for the people who know how to write the code that allow you to manipulate it. And whenever these students really start understanding the prowess and possibilities and the way that they change their lives, they’re not intimidated by the fact that it’s a constant self-education. And I think the best students moving forward and the best individuals for our society are individuals that are continuously self-educating and so we’re not afraid of that challenge and fortunately our students aren’t as well.
Russ: I’m a little bit behind on that; I learned Fortran and I’m kind of behind now. You probably don’t even know what Fortran is.
Thomas: Yeah, yeah. So one thing that we’re very careful with is we as the South Florida Accelerator and Innovation Florida we have our ears to the ground with the industry. We have our strategic partners who tell us what is relevant and what they need and so we teach the most prominent languages, so we focus heavily on HTML, CSS, Java Script and Ruby on Rails. It covers the front end, it covers the back end, but we’re always making sure that the languages that we’re teaching are the ones that matter the most in the workforce.
Russ: Cool. This technology space, this happening space, gets real poor grades on the gender issue. Do you have, do you recruit, are you going to recruit females into these classes? Somewhere it’s discussed so often that it seems a proactive position in that category would help.
Thomas: So I’m very happy to say that our pilot program that was launched this summer which was phenomenally successful I believe the ratio was probably 40% female to 60% male and then in the classrooms that we’re in right now the gender gap has a little bit closer. The thing that I’m most proud of is the students that are driving the most value are actually the schools that we participate with that come from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds and this is really the opportunity for these students to obtain the dream that we all are hoping for; and so that’s what I’m extremely proud of. Now to answer your question fully, absolutely we’re looking to bring in as many females, as many minorities, as many people as possible into the world of coding.
Russ: Okay. I want to stay in touch because I like this and would love to check back with you and look at your report card in about a year.
Thomas: Absolutely. We would absolutely love to and more importantly if you’d like to learn the new languages come stop by.
Russ: All right Thomas, thanks a lot.
Thomas: Absolute pleasure talking to you.
Russ: You bet.
Thomas: Thank you Russ.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Thomas Brady, the Managing Director of the South Florida Accelerator and the guy championing Code Schools here in Ft. Lauderdale. And this is BusinessMakers USA.
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