Alongside the glinting waves and pristine beachfront property, a surge of talent is transforming Miami into a tech hub.
The Kauffman Index rated the metropolitan area of Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach as the number one entrepreneurial area in America, and international tech startups are using the city for its geographic proximity to Latin America.
But in Broward County, just north of the white sands of Miami Beach, there’s a stark reality for the youth of color: They don’t have access to technology or entrepreneurial leaders the same way that some of their well-to-do peers do.
“In areas of high growth in the tech and entrepreneurial or small business sector, [minority] populations are completely left out of that activity,” says Felecia Hatcher-Pearson, co-founder of Code Fever Miami. “If you have an idea, oftentimes you have to leave your neighborhood in order to execute on that idea or get the right resources in order to make that happen. And that’s a problem.”
Hatcher-Pearson’s organization is bridging that digital divide — which she refers to as an “innovation desert” — by providing opportunities to young teens of color in coding lessons and pitching business startup ideas.
Since 2013, Code Fever has introduced more than 3,000 youth and adults to the tech ecosystem. It’s also served as host to more than 100 tech events, including boot camps and hack-a-thons.
This isn’t Hatcher-Pearson’s first attempt at bringing entrepreneurship to youth. After losing her marketing job at Nintendo in 2008 when the financial crisis hit, she moved back into her parent’s Florida home and opened an ice cream and popsicle stand in Broward County. She noticed that the kids in the community looked up to moneymakers: those selling drugs.
“Sometimes the first way [these kids] get introduced to entrepreneurship in their neighborhoods when they live in impoverished neighborhoods, it’s the guy that’s selling on the block, right? And if he’s successful, he’s getting a mentor, like someone showing him how to do it,” she says.
Hatcher-Pearson began pairing teens with entrepreneurs to learn how to market and sell sweets using extra stands she had laying around.
“We know what happens when young people can’t get their first jobs or don’t learn the basic skills on how to be self-sustainable, the entire cycle of poverty continues,” she says.
As Miami’s tech scene started taking off in 2010, Hatcher-Pearson recognized a similar lack of entrepreneurial mentorship.
“It wasn’t inclusive,” says Hatcher-Pearson, referring to the tech scene in Miami. “It didn’t include the black community or the Caribbean community in any of the activity, the resources, the programming or any of the spaces.”
With the help of her husband, Derek, the two started Code Fever.
The organization’s reputation is built on its ability to foster African American tech talent through its Black Tech Week. The summit provides multiple pitch opportunities to help finance burgeoning startups, class intensives geared toward making older generations more digitally native and education for teachers on how to bring in more technology into the classroom — a massive hindrance for students, Hatcher says.
“Oftentimes, their teachers don’t have the right tech training or tech confidence, and they’re the ones that are not doing a good job of allowing technology to be in the classroom,” Hatcher-Pearson says.
Ryan Hall, who heads the curriculum for Code Fever and Black Tech Week, says that based on his own personal experience, the role the organization plays in students’ lives is essential.
“I personally found that I was in a lot of these tech spaces, and I didn’t see a lot of people who look like me,” Hall says. “We care about taking people who are minorities and bringing them into the technology economy, because it has the ability to raise people out of their socioeconomic situation.”
Both Hatcher-Pearson and Hall attribute the program’s success to its ability to allow kids of color to integrate their own personal lifestyles and interests into coding. Code Fever accomplishes this by bringing in local black celebrities and creating hybrid projects that merge music and tech or sports and tech.
“Culture plays a major role in introducing students to [science, technology, engineering or math] fields,” says Hatcher-Pearson. “We have to introduce them to computer programming because… the current narrative is that the black and brown community doesn’t exist in tech, and we are pioneers in tech and innovation.”
The 2017 AllStars program is produced in partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal and celebrates social entrepreneurs who are powering solutions with innovative technology. Visit NationSwell.com/AllStars from Oct. 2 to Nov. 2 to vote for your favorite AllStar. The winner will receive the Tech Impact Award, a $10,000 grant to help further his or her work advocating for change.
Correction: A previous version of this video stated that Miami is the birthplace of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. He was born in Albuquerque, N.M. NationSwell apologizes for this error.
Vote for Felecia Now!