Miami boot camp will help entrepreneurs from underserved communities cross the digital divide

Above: EcoTech coding graduation, November 2015.

Carlos Vazquez is director of the Digital Citizen Bootcamp at EcoTech Visions, which Knight Foundation supports to foster talent and promote economic opportunity. Today Knight is announcing $200,000 in support for the program to offer entrepreneurship and tech training to underserved Miami-Dade communities.

For most Americans over 12, a mobile phone is as important as a wallet or purse. They use it for business, socializing and extending themselves beyond the physical boundaries of where they work, live and learn. Advances in information technology and communication – including the invention and enhancement of tools that simplify creation of online content have led to increased participation in the digital economy.

This trend can be seen throughout the country, and South Florida has felt this surge throughout various communities. Unfortunately, some individuals have been left behind. There exists a digital divide – a separation that keeps certain individuals, specifically from lower socio-economic status, from accessing the digital economy due to lack of exposure and training in the use of technology. The mission of the Digital Citizen Bootcamp at EcoTech Visions is to close that gap for the Liberty City community and beyond.

Tech entrepreneur Birame Sock mentors first cohort Coding Bootcamp student Jemiah Suis. Photo by Justin Knight.  

Located in northwestern Miami-Dade County, Liberty City often feels disconnected from other communities. Eighty-four percent of its 40,000 residents are African-American, and the median family income is half of that for Miami-Dade County and the State of Florida. Unfortunately, for communities such as Liberty City, there exists a disconnect between their online worlds and their ability to participate actively as creators and producers of content. Why does this digital divide continue to exist and what is the economic and social impact? What can we do to close this gap over the next 10 years?

The digital divide is an economic and knowledge divide that can be—and needs to be—closed immediately. People of lower socio-economic status are less likely to participate in content creation due to disadvantages in education and lack of the necessary free time for the work involved in creating and maintaining blogs, websites and applications. The EcoTech Visions Digital Citizen Bootcamp addresses these traditional barriers by offering a free, comprehensive eight-week intensive course in the practical use of a wide range of technologies and applications. Classes meet in the evenings so that students can fit it in with their work schedule.

Participants in the program gain valuable hands-on experience and work with local small businesses to build an online presence. During the boot camp, participants learn in-demand technology skills and have access to knowledgeable guest speakers and mentors. Through active community engagement, participants also learn the importance of developing and participating in an ecosystem and leveraging their existing networks.  

The digital divide is both a generational issue with leaders who themselves are only now becoming comfortable with tech and by extension a policy issue because they are not sure how to create programs for the Liberty City community and others like it.

How do we empower individuals on the wrong side of the digital divide?

  1. Create economic and social value using information tech and communication.

  2. Assist in evaluating personal and professional opportunities and risks.

  3. Teach how to analyze community and career information.

  4. Apply this new knowledge to expanding personal and professional horizons.

The digital divide is more than just a “technology issue.” It is an access issue, and it cannot be alleviated merely by providing equipment and internet access. We need to focus on information access and use. To empower individuals, we need to show them how to make use of the information and communication tools once they exist within a community.

Despite the existence of applications that make it possible for anyone with a computer and an internet connection to be a creator of content, the majority of user-generated content on the internet is created by a small percentage of people. That needs to change. Participants in the program will learn how to use various web tools and processes to increase the online presence of their local small businesses.

EcoTech Visions, founded by Dr. Pandwe Gibson, is a results-oriented business incubator and accelerator that is wholeheartedly committed to building tremendous value for its clients, employees and shareholders. Dr. Gibson is widely recognized as a business broker who has provided infrastructural support to small businesses, cities, neighborhoods and independent consultants.

It is EcoTech’s mission to create an engaged atmosphere where green-based startups can plan, launch, market and grow their businesses, while creating profits in a friendly, moral and ethical manner. The Digital Citizen Bootcamp extends this effort and I’m thrilled about the opportunity to empower individuals to participate in the digital economy.

For more information, please contact [email protected]