Launching SURGE: Tech & Entrepreneurship Center

October 23, 2020

South LA high school sophomore Kenneth, age 15, has been interested in tech since middle school but hasn’t been able to find high quality tech education programs. “I love the ability to innovate in order to help the world and citizens. Anything can be possible with tech, as nothing is your limit.” It all comes down to a lack of access to tech in South LA.

Kenneth is not alone. SoLa Impact found 87% of students at 13 large area public high schools also lack access to tech related electives.

The SoLa I CAN Foundation strives to make a meaningful impact in tech access in South LA with the launch of SURGE: Technology and Entrepreneurship Development Center this month, the first such institution in South LA, with a virtual ten-week session. 85 students (ages 9-18) from throughout the area have enrolled in a variety of after-school programs in coding, virtual reality, graphic design, robotics, and video game design.

SURGE’s mission is to close the digital divide by opening access to virtual technology education while completing the buildout of a 15,000 sq ft tech hub in South LA to open in Summer 2021. Our vision is to inspire students by introducing them to skills and training in technology and media, giving them access to future high growth employment opportunities in technology industries.

SURGE is entering a growing Los Angeles tech sector, the second largest market for tech jobs (>500,000) in the country – making up 10% of LA’s economy totalling $92 billion a year. The center will feature multiple computer labs and instruction spaces, an esports and gaming arena, makerspace, entrepreneurship programs and Live Nation Music Lab.

Partnerships with innovative and exciting groups that will offer both virtual and eventually in-person programming include:

-Virtual programming partnerships with Otis College of Arts and Design, The Hidden Genius Project, Kai XR and South LA Robotics

-In the eventual brick-and-mortar location, we will partner with Riot Games and the North American Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) to offer curriculum in video game design and esports management. To build youth pipelines into the tech sector, SURGE has partnered with Bixel Exchange, Los Angeles’ Center for Innovation & Technology housed in the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce to help connect students with paid tech industry internships.

-SURGE and WeThrive to run will collaborate on a series of entrepreneurship seminars where youth are taught how to create their own businesses to solve local social problems.

-Microsoft and Intel are generously supplying software for SURGE students.

Along with Kenneth, SURGE students are eager to explore how a tech education can help build their careers. Andrea, senior age 17, told a SoLa I CAN associate, “I want to be aware of how technology can be used besides the classic social media and school. Technology excites me because of how flexible it is. It can and is used for every part of our lives and that’s fascinating.” Freshman Wanda (14) says, “I am looking to better my skills with technology. I enjoy how creative you can be when it comes to technology.”

Unfortunately, South LA residents experience one of the widest tech and internet access gaps of any community in Los Angeles County. In Spring 2020, USC’s Annenberg School of Communications reported that just 3 in 10 Los Angeles students were set up to effectively distance learn, with the disparity more pronounced in both South and East Los Angeles. The numbers have improved slightly but an enormous gap remains. SoLa Impact surveyed its tenants and found 64% lacked reliable access to technology.

The urgency to solve these challenges is immense. That is why SoLa Impact’s Chief Impact Officer and SoLa I CAN Foundation Executive Director Sherri Francois brings her roots to this important challenge. “I was born in Compton,” Sherri explains, “I spent most of my early childhood there before my parents moved our family inland. My path and those of my friends and family in South LA began to diverge because I had an abundance of different educational opportunities. That is one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about SURGE’s new tech education programming.”

To learn more about SURGE, the virtual launch and ways to get involved, visit our website or email us at surge@solaican.org.