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The Solver-Member Introduction that Led to $1.5 Million in Startup Funding

Strada Education Network, an MIT Solve Member, recently committed $1.5 million in grant funding to scale the work of Code Nation, a Youth, Skills & the Workforce of the Future Solver. Learn how it all began in this Q&A with Code Nation CEO Rebecca Novak and Strada Education Network SVP Michelle Weise.

Tell us how you initially connected.

Michelle Weise: Strada Institute for the Future of Work closely follows the great research coming out of MIT, so when Solve approached us with its Work of the Future Challenge, we were eager to learn more. My first conference call included Solve mentors and a handful of Solver teams.

Rebecca Novak: Code Nation was one of these Solver teams, and it was on this call that we first met Michelle Weise. We learned that there was significant alignment in what we are both trying to accomplish to ensure young people have the skills, networks, and experiences they need to access 21st-century careers.

What first piqued Strada’s interest in Code Nation?

MW: Initially, what drew me to Code Nation was its focus on bringing coding skills to schools where the majority of students come from low-income households who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. But what impressed me was that they were leveraging a volunteer workforce of industry practitioners who were lining up at the door to help.

Code Nation has a waitlist of expert coders willing to commit to a year-long (that’s long-term!) engagement with a set of learners—and not just once, but multiple times a week. That’s tremendous dedication from an essentially free talent pool of instructors.

$1.5 million is an impressive amount—how did it feel to receive this funding?

RN: We were tremendously excited. This is an incredible partnership for us, and Strada is now our largest institutional funder. In addition to continuing our current programs for thousands of young people in New York City, NY and San Francisco, CA, this funding will enable Code Nation to further scale our work, and we’ll be opening a new site in Chicago, IL this fall.  

Beyond funding, how else will you work together?

MW: Beyond funding, Strada will amplify the good work that Code Nation is doing in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area by supporting the Code Nation marketing and communications team. We will monitor Code Nation’s work to identify potential areas where technical assistance might be necessary. And we will ask for feedback from Code Nation on our grant management processes to learn how we can be a better partner to future grantees.

RN: Long term, Code Nation aims for at least half of our alumni to work in tech—so far 74 percent of our alums are either majoring or working in STEM, so we’re on track to exceed our goals. Over the next three years, we aim to not only continue to hone and improve our program so we can continue to meet or exceed these outcomes, but we are also excited to scale our work. We’re working to deepen our impact in our current communities, as well as bring new regions into Code Nation.

What’s the bigger-picture impact of this partnership?

MW: In the current school year, Code Nation will reach 1,374 students in 46 high schools in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area. Most of these students are exposed to careers they might not have thought were open to them. They are shown an accessible path, and they make valuable contacts. Code Nation is creating a new generation of tech leaders whose average annual salary will be $84,580.

Strada is interested in working with organizations like Code Nation who have a great idea and can demonstrate that its vision helps learners achieve their educational and career goals. We aim to support efforts like these and scale them to other areas of the country to help more students—all while creating a strong talent pipeline to fill the jobs of the future.

If you have a great idea waiting to be scaled, apply to Solve’s Global Challenges by the July 1 deadline. Or if you have the resources to support early-stage entrepreneurs, learn how you can get involved.


Image courtesy of Code Nation

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