Five New York Tech Nonprofits to Watch (February 2018)

During the past ten years, an incredible array of nonprofits have emerged in New York that are teaching tech skills, fostering entrepreneurship, and creating new career opportunities for underserved students and communities. Each of these organizations has a fascinating founding story that deserves to be told.

For this month’s installment of our monthly companies to watch post, we decided to spotlight five nonprofits that are bringing more inclusivity and diversity to New York’s thriving tech industry. New York City is full of organizations that are changing lives and reshaping our community and there is no way we could include them all here. They all speak volumes about our community, and we are so lucky to have them.

Check out five tech nonprofits we’re excited about below.

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C4Q

What does your nonprofit do?
C4Q Founder and CEO Jukay Hsu: C4Q takes individuals from some of New York’s most underserved communities and helps them get high-paying jobs as software engineers. We do this through our 10-month immersive course, where students obtain all the skills necessary to be able to code. Our graduates go from making on average $18,000 per year to more than $85,000.

Why did you found it in New York?
JH: New York has one of the highest concentrations of wealth in the world, but also some of the highest poverty levels in the country. Many times people get trapped in this cycle of low-paying work because they can’t afford or otherwise don’t have access to the kinds of training courses that will help them move into the middle class. New York is also my hometown, so I wanted to make a difference in the lives of those around me.

What was your inspiration to start it?
JH: When I was in the Army serving in Iraq, I realized that the only difference between officers and enlisted men was whether they had a college degree. While many of the enlisted men were incredibly intelligent, most simply didn’t have access to the same kinds of opportunities as I did growing up. After I got out, I wanted to find a way to help people like them get access to the kind of training that would allow them the same kinds of opportunities, and thus C4Q was born.

How can New York companies do a better job of fostering inclusivity?
JH: The first place companies should look is their own blue-collar workforces. By finding ways to give them the skills to fill white-collar job openings, like as software engineers, you both infuse fresh perspective into higher-skilled positions as well as make a real difference in your current employees’ lives.

What lessons have you learned from the people you’re teaching?
JH: I’m amazed by the abilities and perseverance of our students. Many of them come in and don’t know the first thing about coding. But they dedicate themselves to doing the work and learn the skills that are going to create real change in their lives. Some even go on to start their own companies after graduation.

What is one thing you want to accomplish in 2018?
JH: In 2018, I want to lay the groundwork to make C4Q truly self-sustaining and put us in a position to take our model national.

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Code/Interactive

What does your nonprofit do?
Code/Interactive Interim Executive Director Tom O'Connell: Code/Interactive (C/I) is a nonprofit that trains educators and builds inclusive computer science programs. We provide districts, schools, educational organizations, and teachers with the curriculum, tools, and training necessary to implement K-12 computer science programs aligned to their goals and needs.

What makes New York the ideal place for your work?
TO: Code/Interactive was born as a nonprofit in the Bronx in 2001, so our roots are deep in the communities that we serve here in the city even though we are now privileged enough to work with many other states across the country. And with such wonderful initiatives in our hometown like CS4All, we learn so much from working with NYC schools to help us implement across the country.

How can New York companies do a better job of fostering inclusivity?
TO: Inclusivity has so many variables that it really needs to be the main focus not just for companies but for communities, nonprofits, education systems, and governmental systems working together toward a common goal. We believe that giving every student an amazing computer science education will help, but companies and communities need to improve all of the inequitable systems that might be holding people back from succeeding.

What lessons have you learned from the people you’re teaching?
TO: I've learned that no matter how much technology you put into classrooms or resources you pour into schools, strong relationships are the key to success in education. To teach students (or teachers) anything, you really have to get to know them and show them that you care about them as individuals.

What is one thing you want to accomplish in 2018?
TO: We're about to merge with Mouse, another NYC-based nonprofit, so we're focused on developing our joint programs with their expertise in creating STEM curriculum and our experience training educators in computer science.

What's your favorite Winter Olympics sport?
TO: Snowboarding in the halfpipe is one of the most exciting things you can possibly watch during the Olympics and we're rooting for Chloe Kim, who already won a gold medal.

What's the coziest coffee spot in NYC?
TO: I'm a big fan of Manhattanville Coffee on 142nd Street and Edgecombe. It has the perfect mixture of nice baristas, beautiful windows, ample outlets, fast wifi, and delicious snacks.

What brought you to New York?
TO: I grew up in Westchester and I always knew that I would call the city home when it was time to leave the suburbs. I lived in Spain and Houston before moving back to NYC for the opportunity to help open up a new school in Brooklyn.

What's the best condiment on a New York hot dog?
TO: Crif Dogs makes a hot dog called the Tsunami that is wrapped in bacon with teriyaki, pineapple, and green onions. You have to try it. In fact, have two.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you in NYC?
TO: I think my favorite memories of the city are from running the NYC Marathon. You'll never hear so many positive words of encouragement from New Yorkers in one day ever again.

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COOP

What does your nonprofit do?
COOP Founder and Executive Director Kalani Leifer: COOP (“ko-op”) helps CUNY grads build digital skills, peer networks, and upwardly mobile careers. Our flagship program is the Digital Apprenticeship, a rigorous 200-hour, 18-week career accelerator led by alumni “cohort captains.”

Why did you found it in New York?
KL: New York’s digital economy is thriving—yet it’s starved for diverse, qualified candidates. NYC is blessed with CUNY, “the greatest urban university in the world” and a vibrant tech sector, with very little connective tissue in between. COOP can change that.

What was your inspiration to start it?
KL: I began my career as a history teacher at Kappa International, a public high school in the Bronx. The strong and resilient and productive bonds between my students was the earliest inspiration for COOP’s peer-led, cohort-based theory of change.

How can New York companies do a better job of fostering inclusivity?
KL: Referral-based recruiting in NYC is popular but it perpetuates the status quo, all but guaranteeing that the best candidates resemble existing employees. To break this cycle, companies need to reexamine how informal relationships influence (and sometimes distort) the recruiting process and they should also recruit, hire, and promote local CUNY grads!

What is one thing you want to accomplish in 2018?
KL: We’re on track to launch our 50th cohort this fall, just four years after our pilot program. That means we’ll end the year with more than 700 alumni in both NYC and the Bay Area.

What's the coziest coffee spot in NYC?
KL: Greene Grape Annex. Great space, big windows, seamless coffee-to-beer transition opportunities, and right across from Greenlight on Fulton, the best bookstore in town.

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
KL: La Bonbonniere diner on 8th Ave in the West Village. It’s always warm, inviting, and reassuringly consistent.

What’s your favorite NYC building?
KL: The Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower. The tower and its trademark red clock are a point of reference all day and night in that part of Brooklyn.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you in NYC?
KL: Becoming a high school history teacher at the ripe-old age of 21.

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ScriptEd

What does your nonprofit do?
ScriptEd Co-Founder and Executive Director Maurya Couvares: ScriptEd equips students in under-resourced schools with the coding skills and professional experiences that together create access to careers in technology.

Why did you found it in New York?
MC: NYC is fertile ground for social innovation because the city has both areas of huge need and abundant resources to address those needs. With a thriving tech industry, a strong culture of philanthropy, and the largest public school system in the world, NYC offered us the opportunity to reach underserved youth and make a real impact in our community.

What was your inspiration to start it?
MC: I was working as an after-school program coordinator, and I noticed that my students were interested in technology and digital media, but weren’t aware that those interests could lead to careers. I saw a vital need to teach students real-world coding skills and expose them to careers in tech.

How can New York companies do a better job of fostering inclusivity?
MC: Companies can foster a more inclusive culture through professional development and service opportunities for employees. Volunteers and partner companies who support ScriptEd programs gain experience and training that they say helps them become leaders in their equity and inclusion initiatives at their companies.

What lessons have you learned from the people you’re teaching?
MC: Every year, I watch our students leap headfirst into learning to code. Their willingness to take risks and try new things is one of my biggest sources of inspiration as a social entrepreneur.

What is one thing you want to accomplish in 2018?
MC: In 2018, we want to expand beyond NYC and the San Francisco Bay Area. After a successful launch in the Bay Area last year, we’re ready to bring our programs to more new cities next year.

What's the coziest coffee spot in NYC?
MC: Birch Coffee on 27th Street in Chelsea has a special place in my heart, because we used to meet there to do our curriculum planning the very first year ScriptEd started.

What’s your favorite NYC building?
MC: One of the perks of working at ScriptEd is that you get to see a lot of cool tech offices. The Google and Etsy offices are two of my favorites. We’ve had so many student events there, and the roof terraces and views are always a big draw.

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The Knowledge House

What does your nonprofit do?
The Knowledge House Co-Founders Jerelyn Rodriguez and Joe Carrano: TKH empowers a talent pipeline of technologists, entrepreneurs, and digital leaders in the Bronx and helps them uplift their communities out of poverty. To do this, we offer introductory and advanced courses in software and web development, data science, UIUX, and project management. TKH has served more than 1,000 young people from underserved communities.

Why did you found it in New York?
JR/JC: We are both NYC natives and have a passion to provide opportunities for low income NYC residents. For Jerelyn, it was important to prove an alternative workforce model in the poorest congressional district nationwide, the South Bronx, because more than 27 percent of young South Bronx residents are unemployed.

What was your inspiration to start it?
JR/JC: We know that tech will provide a huge opportunity to put young Bronxites to work. The need to create alternative pathways into tech became urgent, especially to fill the forty-four percent of tech jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree.

How can New York companies do a better job of fostering inclusivity?
JR/JC: By giving candidates opportunities based on experience instead of a person’s credentials or academic history. Companies must design and implement nontraditional hiring practices to actually see a more diverse workforce.

What lessons have you learned from the people you’re teaching?
JR/JC: The most innovative people come from nontraditional backgrounds. However, they need to develop the skills and confidence to recognize their own personal assets and potential.

What is one thing you want to accomplish in 2018?
JR/JC:: Launching our new Java software development course in the fall.

What's the coziest coffee spot in NYC?
JR/JC: Filtered Coffee in the Bronx has amazing lighting, is cozy and never crowded, and is also surrounded by awesome restaurants like Mott Haven Bar and Charlie’s Bar and Kitchen.

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
JR/JC: Charlie’s Bar and Kitchen is one of our favorite Bronx restaurants. The brussel sprouts and chicken and waffles are to die for.

What’s your favorite neighborhood?
JR/JC: Hunts Point in the Bronx because we both have lived there at some point and our office space is there. It’s the Bronx neighborhood with the most need and is where we first got started serving youth! There are also some great parks with nice views of the Bronx River.

What’s your favorite NYC building?
JR/JC: The BankNote building, which sits on a hill along the Bruckner Expressway in the Bronx. It has extraordinary views of Manhattan and has an interesting history too, as it used to be a factory that produced U.S. and foreign bills and coins.