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An Atlanta organization’s mission to bring racial equity to the tech ecosystem

Editor's Note:

This case study is part of the Spotlight on Local Recovery Efforts series, a feature of the COVID-19 Metro Recovery Watch.

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Summary

Between the COVID-19 pandemic and the tragic death of George Floyd, the country’s ongoing crisis of racism has come into stark relief. Black Americans are disproportionately diagnosed with or dying from COVID-19 due to structural conditions, while also facing major economic risks as the racial unemployment gap between white and Black populations is the widest it’s been in five years. At the same time, Black people are still vulnerable to police violence that too often occurs without consequences. While there is a great deal of work to be done to dismantle structural racism, it is imperative to use this moment to remove racial barriers and invest in long-term prosperity for Black people, enterprises, and communities.

Closing the racial wealth divide can create better health, educational, and economic outcomes for Black Americans. The tech industry, which has both a significant need for more racial equity and a plethora of jobs that don’t require an expensive college degree, can offer pathways to higher incomes and opportunities for wealth creation. Rodney Sampson recognized this when he co-founded Opportunity Hub (OHUB), a technology, startup, and venture ecosystem-building platform created to ensure that everyone, everywhere has equitable access to the future of work and the fourth industrial revolution as a path to multigenerational wealth creation with no reliance on preexisting wealth. Leveraging its metrics-driven blueprint and methodology—as outlined in “Building Inclusive Entrepreneurship Ecosystems In Communities of Color” with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City—OHUB delivers early exposure, skills development, talent placement, entrepreneurship-support programming, and market and capital access. This is driven by racial equity as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion solutions; innovation labs and equity districts; college campus programs; skills and training programs; talent placement efforts; entrepreneurial support and startup acceleration; and capital formation.

Execution 

In 2013, Rodney Sampson and his wife, Shanterria Sampson, co-founded Opportunity Hub after the release of Sampson’s fourth book, Kingonomics: Twelve Innovative Currencies for Transforming Your Business and Life Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The book asserts that equitable access to the innovation economy creates systemic change, economic justice, and an accelerated path out of poverty and income inequality.

After hearing the needs of thousands of aspiring Black tech startup founders at the Kingonomics’ large-scale innovation, entrepreneurship, and investment conferences hosted by Sampson and ABC’s Shark Tank, OHUB launched in Atlanta and quickly became the largest Black-owned multicampus coworking entrepreneurship center and technology hub in the United States. It is definitively focused on diversity, inclusion, and equity as a business and investment thesis for the development of high-demand technical talent, net new permanent jobs, and high-growth company-building. Each year, thousands of people learn, engage, build, and work via the OHUB ecosystem.

OHUB’s blueprint for building ground-up, hyperlocal, globally connected, diverse, equitable, and inclusive technology, startup, and venture ecosystems is represented by the Economic Development Pyramid below and executed across its wholly owned subsidiaries and sister organizations. 

Fig1

OHUB executes these economic development efforts with diversity, equity, and inclusion solutions, innovation labs and equity districts, college campus programs, skills and training programs, talent placement efforts, entrepreneurial support and startup acceleration, and capital formation.

Racial equity and DEIS (diversity, equity, and inclusion solutions)

Creating racial equity throughout the technology, startup, and venture ecosystem to create shared prosperity, economic mobility, and new multigenerational wealth for everyone is foundational and core to OHUB’s definitive purpose and mission. To execute, OHUB partners with leading organizations, influencers, platforms, and enterprises to aggregate industry- or ecosystem-wide racial equity pledges to implement DEIS value-added services, strategy, and solutions across an organization’s corporate governance, human resources, procurement, product development (corporate innovation), go-to-market, impact, and investment. Existing partners include the Brookings Institution, VentureBeat, and Brad Feld. Annual fees include the fair market value of a full-time chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer’s salary and the costs associated with any initiatives created as a result of the DEIS process.

OHUB’s West Midtown Campus (circa 2014-2016)
OHUB’s West Midtown Campus (circa 2014-2016)

Innovation labs and equity districts (safe spaces)

OHUB opened its first 7,500-square-foot campus in downtown Atlanta in the summer of 2013. In September 2014, they added 14,000 square feet, with an expansion to West Midtown’s Giant Lofts and the historic Westside in a joint venture with the late Herman J. Russell. In late 2015, OHUB joined forces with local entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to open a 25,000-square-foot campus in Georgia Tech’s Technology Square. This partnership has invested in over 40 high-growth tech startups that have raised more than $400 million in follow on capital, are valued at $1.5 billion, and employ more than 2,000 people. Today, OHUB operates an ecosystem-building lab in the historic 18th & Vine District in Kansas City, Mo. and an innovation lab with the Morehouse Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center in Atlanta.

In June 2020, OHUB formed OHUB Development as a wholly owned subsidiary to joint venture with real estate developers via public-private partnerships to build “equity districts” as mixed-use residential, commercial, and retail community concepts that will house OHUB’s early exposure, immersive learning, startup support, and investing programs in socially disadvantaged communities and/or Opportunity Zones in key U.S. cities. OHUB joins as a co-developer and investor, also leveraging a small monthly fee per square foot to fund the programs and innovation spaces and labs.

HBCU@SXSW Day at Huston-Tillotson University
HBCU@SXSW Day at Huston-Tillotson University.

College campus programs

OHUB has a growing community of over 5,000 college students representing over 400 colleges and universities, including our nation’s historically Black colleges and universities. Membership includes access to OHUB.365 (detailed below), priority application to leading festivals and conferences such as SXSW, HIMSS, BlackInAI (NEURIPS), VentureBeat’s Transform AI, and LA Blockchain Summit. Tech companies sponsor student memberships, scholarships and the conferences to enable the programming and interview the students for paid summer and full-time roles upon graduation.

OHUB.Morehouse Innovation Lab
OHUB.Morehouse Innovation Lab.

OHUB.Campus

Opportunity Hub launched OHUB.Campus as a branded platform to provide colleges and universities and their respective administrators, faculty, and students with the exposure, knowledge, opportunities, connections, and tools to effectively launch a technology and startup ecosystem from the ground up, thereby connecting them to the global innovation, entrepreneurship, and investment economy. Campuses involved with OHUB.Campus can benefit from several opportunities, including:

  • Access to OHUB’s brand and playbook for schools to launch a technology and startup entrepreneurship ecosystem on campus for students, alumni, and the surrounding community
  • Access to a global network of startup ecosystems, entrepreneurship support programs, and funding
  • Access to a global network of recruiters at technology and funded startup companies
  • Ability to establish and operate an official student chapter of Opportunity Hub on campus
  • Partnership on the launch of an on-campus tech, entrepreneurship, and investment lab with a full-time program manager, student office hours, recruitment events, hackathons, and demo days
  • Delivery of a live webcast event each month to include exclusive presentations and conversations from diverse and inclusive technologists, recruiters, innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors on high-demand technology careers, high-growth startup entrepreneurship, and multigenerational wealth creation.
  • Joint venture on offering OHUB’s African American Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Investment course
  • Campus listing on the OHUB website and portal as a trusted safe space to learn, engage, and connect in the innovation economy regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation
  • Collaboration on launching an industry-staffed coding, technical sales, and entrepreneurship bootcamp as a part of the school’s accredited curriculum or continuing education programs. Partnership with the local workforce development board is also an option.
  • Opportunity to invest as a limited partner in OHUB’s partner seed-stage venture funds and portfolio companies.

To fund the opportunities listed above, schools can pay for the program themselves from existing funds or fundraise through sponsorships, grants, or crowdsourcing. Alternatively, student chapters can sell memberships to community organizations and new startups. OHUB.Campus can cost between $25,000 and $2 million depending on which opportunities the school wishes to take advantage of. 

OHUB.365 

Pivoting from live, in-person events in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, OHUB launched OHUB.365 as a portal to provide OHUB members with early exposure and introduction to edge technologies, skills, career pathways, startups, and funding in the fourth industrial revolution. Anchored by a growing library of subject matter expertise, members also receive a daily curated newsletter and webinar designed to position them to take advantage of opportunities traditionally leveraged by well-connected and privileged communities. Subject matter experts, respected authorities, recruiters, and ecosystem builders are invited to sign up to speak on OHUB.365 and invite their colleagues to do the same.

Enterprises, investors, foundations, and developers are invited to sponsor student and professional memberships at $50 and $200 per year, respectively.

OHUB.SXSW

In 2016, OHUB pioneered OHUB.SXSW and its HBCU@SXSW programming in partnership with SXSW, the largest interactive technology festival on the planet. Since then, over 550 Black and Latino or Hispanic college students have had the opportunity to attend this immersive experience, interview with technology companies, and secure well-paying summer internships or full-time jobs upon graduation. As an example, in 2019, NBCUniversal made 15 full-time offers, Deloitte made 18 full-time offers, Microsoft hired 21 for summer internships, and Mailchimp hired eight for summer internships. The median pay for summer internships was $20,000. The median starting salary for our full-time hires was $97,500. This yielded a growing economic impact of approximately $8,375,000 annually.

In 2020, OHUB was preparing to bring 500 students to the fifth annual OHUB.SXSW. Due to COVID-19, however, the in-person experience was canceled and rescheduled as a virtual experience a week later, with over 1,100 students, young professionals, and entrepreneurs. For participating students, all travel, hotel, meals, conference registration was paid. Student OHUB members apply to be selected. The opportunity is supported by corporations, venture-backed startups, and foundations, including Deloitte, NBCUniversal, Accenture, Facebook, Google, KC Global Design, and the Kauffman Foundation. This has created over $10 million in new economic impact that continues to grow each year with the placement of new transformative talent into top companies. Hiring partners contribute between $10,000 and $250,000.

OHUB.HIMSS

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) is a global advisor and thought leader supporting the transformation of the health ecosystem through information and technology. HIMSS and OHUB have partnered to create OHUB.HIMSS as an innovative health equity initiative working to increase the pipeline of early technical and nontechnical Black and Latino or Hispanic talent at HIMSS member companies and beyond. Before COVID-19 cancellations, 50 college and university students were selected to attend HIMSS20, a global health conference and exhibition that brings together nearly 45,000 health information and technology professionals, clinicians, executives, and market suppliers from around the world to experience exceptional education, world-class speakers, cutting-edge products, and powerful networking opportunities. For students, all expenses would be paid to experience the conference and the many career pathways and opportunities that exist in health technology. Student OHUB members must apply to be selected. The opportunity is supported by corporations, venture-backed startups, and foundations, including Cigna, Express Scripts, and the HIMSS Foundation. These partners contribute between $10,000 and $250,000.

OHUB.BlackInAI (OHUB@BAI) 

Black in AI (BAI) is a multi-institutional, transcontinental initiative creating a space for sharing ideas, fostering collaborations, and discussing initiatives to increase the presence of Black individuals in the field of AI. Through the support of its corporate partners, BAI sponsored 25 OHUB students in 2019 to attend its annual convening and workshop at the annual Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems in Vancouver. At the end of 2020, OHUB plans to provide support for sending their members to the Black in AI Workshop by awarding 100 scholarships to receive round-trip air travel, ground transportation, lodging, and meals. This event covers topics in deep learning, knowledge and statistical reasoning, machine learning, computer vision, artificial intelligence, computational neuroscience, and its various applications. It also delves into topics of fairness, ethics, and transparency in AI as it relates to people of color. Participants engage in deep conversation with others from the BAI global network, hear from world-renowned machine learning and AI researchers, and learn about various career opportunities that exist in this space. All expenses are covered, and Student OHUB members apply to be selected. The opportunity is supported by edge technology corporations that contribute between $5,000 and $200,000.

OHUB Java bootcamp
OHUB Java bootcamp.

Skills & training

Since 2014, OHUB has been collaborating on immersive technology bootcamps for adult learners, recent college graduates, and youth to become proficient and employable as entry-level software developers. In 2015, OHUB launched the nation’s first software engineering and entrepreneurship workforce development program in partnership with leading coding schools and entrepreneurship support programs. This program became the model and framework for our nation’s TechHire initiative under the Obama White House and a national scholarship fund that trained over 300 undertapped Americans from low-income and socially disadvantaged communities to code in in-demand programming languages. They were subsequently placed in paid internships, apprenticeships, or full-time roles as entry-level software developers creating an economic output of over $15 million annually and growing.

Today, through an effort called OHUB Futures under the leadership of Heather Hiles, OHUB is expanding its immersive training offerings nationwide and beyond via partnerships with employers, foundations, online training bootcamps, colleges and universities, and industry associations.

Leif has joined forces with OHUB Futures to launch the first racial-equity-focused income share agreement (ISA) financing vehicle. The financing vehicle will provide funding to launch technology careers for thousands of Black Americans. The initial financing, targeting $50 million, endeavors to finance the education of 10,000 students per year on a recurring basis by leveraging the pay-it-forward philosophy of ISAs.

In addition, OHUB Futures’ first HBCU partnership is a coding certificate program with Morehouse College and Durham, N.C.-based Momentum Learning. Branded Momentum@Morehouse, the program is a live, virtual, 12-week immersive coding program that offers expert-led training in Python/Django and career coaching, plus an extensive network to help students take up space in tech. A partnership between Morehouse College (an HBCU in Atlanta), Momentum Learning (a code school), and Opportunity Hub, Momentum@Morehouse prepares students to become professional software developers. Momentum instructors use a proven methodology to deliver top-rated code school training that exceeds industry standards. They teach students how to build and interact with in-demand software and web applications, including Python, JavaScript, React, HTML, CSS, Django, Git, and more. OHUB supplements the coding courses with “Culture of Work” courses that equip students with the soft skills and career readiness needed to meet the demands of the digitized economy. These courses give students the exposure and skills to navigate the technical interviewing and hiring process, accelerate their acclimation to a changing, more innovative and entrepreneurial workplace, and launch their journey toward financial independence and equitable multigenerational wealth creation in the future of work, fourth industrial revolution, and beyond. Anyone who is at least 18 years old with a high school diploma or equivalent can apply for Momentum@Morehouse, and all participants receive a Morehouse College certificate after successfully completing the program. Total tuition cost is $15,500 for the 12-week program, and alumni of Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University receive a $1,000 tuition discount. The program offers the options for participants to apply for a loan or defer payment via an income-sharing agreement. The average first-year starting salary for an immersive coding graduate is $65,000. Bootcamp graduates in their second and third year, on average, earn $77,000 and $90,000, respectively.

Talent placement

OHUB has a growing community of 5,000 university students and professionals at all levels representing nearly 400 colleges and universities, including nearly 100 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and they are actively seeking upwardly mobile career pathways in edge technology, the startup and venture ecosystem, and beyond. These individuals are uniquely positioned to accelerate the placement of talent at companies of all sizes. Through a collaboration with OHUB Futures, OHUB’s talent placement arm collaborates to place nontraditional talent into industry as well. Currently, OHUB works with over 50 companies to source and place hundreds of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) at all levels—including the board room—on contingency, pipelining, and success model bases.

Going forward, OHUB is scaling to place thousands of engineers, operational professionals, and executives at leading technology, startup, and venture firms.

OHUBKC Accelerator Portfolio company Boddle
OHUBKC Accelerator Portfolio company Boddle.

Entrepreneurship support and startup acceleration

Since 2013, OHUB has worked with hundreds of founders from socially disadvantaged backgrounds to start and build high-growth companies, access early-stage funding, and get to market.

In 2019, OHUB expanded its entrepreneurship support programming and accelerator to Kansas City, Mo. via a public-private partnership with the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City. With a starting operating budget of $1 million, over 2,000 people attended an OHUB monthly entrepreneurship event series, which provided a funnel to its one-day ideation and design thinking masterclass. From there, 60 product stage firms completed a six-month startup bootcamp. Ten finalists were selected to complete the NewMe pre-accelerator. Five venture-backable startups completed the accelerator and received a $50,000 investment and participated in a virtual demo day. Boddle, an education technology startup, recently received an investment of $375,000 and has grown from 1,000 users in March to over 50,000 users today. Musicbuk, a music tech startup, and Forefront, a human resources startup, received an investment from Techstars. Laundris, a sustainability tech AI platform, is now generating over $500,000 in annual recurring revenue and preparing for their seed round.

Going forward in the Kansas City metro area region, OHUB is continuing its public-private partnership with the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City while expanding its strategic partnerships with the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City and the Keystone Innovation District on the expansion and sustainability of its programming and economic output in the region. With an annual operating budget of $3 million, the program consists of:

  • Tech and Startup Pitch Summit: An event to bring the nation’s top innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors of color together in Kansas City for two days of inspiration, networking, and deal flow.
  • Talent Placement, Summer Internship, and Early Hires Initiatives: An effort where OHUB partners with local employers to create and/or expand their summer internships and early hiring programs to be more inclusive.
  • Technical Sales Training: An eight-week training where a cohort of 15 to 20 students becomes proficient in technical sales techniques, processes, and best practices.
  • Software Engineering Trainings: Trainings where OHUB and its portfolio company, Momentum Learning, work with corporations and cities to build custom training programs that teach the software engineering and lifelong learning skills required to address the industry demand for these roles. Programming languages taught are selected based on the immediate local or regional full-time employment opportunities.
  • Monthly Entrepreneurship Event Series: Inspirational and tactical masterclass-style conversations and fireside chats with the world’s leading innovators, disruptors, startup founders, active angel and venture capital investors, and OHUB’s expert entrepreneurship support program partners.
  • Immersive Ideation & Design Thinking Workshops: A one-day masterclass designed to take 100 founders through the agile process of developing a mindset and skillset to start a company from the ground up and navigate the science and best practices of being their best entrepreneurial selves as they seek to solve a business problem using edge technology and beyond.
  • Startup Bootcamps: A program that helps founders identify critical decisions in their startup idea to help them navigate from idea to product market fit.
  • Pre-accelerator for startups: The NewMe Pre-Accelerator program that takes 10 high-growth teams from product to market with a deeper focus on customer acquisition and fundraising over the course of a week. Participants receive a $5,000 grant.
  • Accelerator for startups: A three-month program where five high-growth, product-based startups complete an immersive process by which they accelerate their opportunities to improve their product or service, increase customer acquisition, build diverse and inclusive teams, and raise follow on capital if applicable. Participants each receive a $50,000 investment, introductions to active investors, and access to market opportunities for customer acquisition.

Nationally, OHUB plans to scale its entrepreneurship support programming and pre-accelerator to 100 cities over the next 10 years at a budget of $3 million per year per city.

Keisha Knight Pulliam and Arian Simone of Fearless Fund
Keisha Knight Pulliam and Arian Simone of Fearless Fund.

Capital formation

In 2019, 100 Black Angels & Allies Fund I was formed to institutionalize the thesis of investing in Black founders, accelerators, and funds. Its mission is to align smart, innovative, and skilled Black and ally capital to build a scalable and sustainable Black technology, startup entrepreneurship, and venture ecosystem. The fund is investing $1.5 million in venture funds managed by Black general partners that have a track record of increased performance, yet still experience implicit bias. These investments provide investors who have limited capital access with venture funds with larger minimums and pro-rata access to later-stage high-growth companies with the objective of further de-risking the principal investment. The fund also invested $1 million for a 7.5% stake in OHUB and $2 million in high-growth startup companies curated from the OHUB ecosystem. Limited partners invest a minimum of $50,000 to $5,000,000 in the fund.

Cost and timeframe 

Funding and time frame of execution varies by program, service, or wholly owned subsidiary. These factors are noted under the program descriptions above.

For the second half of 2020, OHUB is working toward raising $10 to $12 million to scale their work across all of their subsidiaries and programs to meet the current moment of COVID-19, the response to the ongoing racial injustice, and the realities that the national workforce faces. By 2021, OHUB plans to train 1,000 people at a cost of $15 million, pre-accelerate 500 high-growth firms at a cost of $2.5 million, accelerate 100 firms at a cost of $5 million, and invest in the seed rounds of 10 companies at $5 million.

Key components and features 

For enterprises, OHUB is a supplier and partner of its diversity, equity, and inclusion Solutions (DEIS) to over 50 tech companies, major corporations, high-growth startups, and venture funds.

For undertapped and socially disadvantaged communities, OHUB provides a membership model that provides access to curated content, programs, and resources designed to expose and connect aspiring technologists, professionals, innovators, entrepreneurs, and a new class of investors to opportunities in the fourth industrial revolution.

For adult learners looking to reskill and upskill, OHUB provides immersive certificates in technical (coding, cybersecurity, distributed ledger) and nontechnical (sales, marketing, business) skills and helps them build their startup and access capital.

For colleges and universities, with a special focus on HBCUs and minority-serving institutions (MSIs), OHUB delivers end-to-end technology, startup and venture ecosystem-building programs, initiatives, and revenue streams.

For municipalities, as noted above, OHUB builds equity districts to create and sustain inclusive in-demand workforces and entrepreneurial ecosystems in the form of public-private partnerships to disrupt income inequality, poverty, and the racial wealth gap while increasing a region’s economic mobility and growth for all of its constituents.

Successes

With its extensive and growing repertoire of programs, the Opportunity Hub is taking an innovative approach to close three major gaps: the racial representation gap in tech, funding and market gaps, and the racial wealth gap. OHUB has already begun the equity work that must be continued and duplicated in other U.S. cities to recover from the consequences of COVID-19. Taking steps to ensure that Black people don’t continue to feel the dire economic effects of structural racism will better position the country in COVID-19 recovery and beyond. 

Considerations

During the COVID-19 crisis and following the death of George Floyd, OHUB has seen a heightened increase in the demand of their work and services as a platform that centers racial equity, talent development, and access to capital. While funding from economic development organizations and foundations had been nascent, the sudden spike in the nation’s interest to dismantle white supremacy and achieve racial equity is a positive sign that this support will grow in even more places.

Regarding their work, OHUB’s proximity to tech has allowed them to make the shift to virtual programming quite well. OHUB.365 is a new series that was born out of the COVID-19 era to provide daily content to continue their early exposure efforts. The in-person OHUB.SXSW conference was replaced with a virtual experience for participating students. Momentum@Morehouse launched in May 2020 as an effort to reskill workers who were displaced by COVID-19.

In doing their work, the lessons that OHUB has learned are captured in this transparent statement by Rodney Sampson: “If we were non-Black doing this, we’d have raised billions by now and would have changed thousands of Black lives and communities. The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes yet a second longer.” 


Sources and additional resources


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