Solution Overview

Solution Name:

Mississippi Coding Academies

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One-line solution summary:

A path for the underserved, women, and displaced workers into tech careers as full-stack coders in 11 months, with CPE to senior developer.

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Pitch your solution.

Problems: (1) under-representation of the underserved and women in tech; (2) chronic shortage of software developers; (3) coding education is fragmented; most coders self-educate online and learn outside of higher-ed. This fragmentation is especially burdensome for the underserved. 

Solution: The Enhanced Mississippi Model for EdTech (TEMME) takes learners from their first lines of code (“Hello World”) to senior software developers in a single, integrated pathway. TEMME combines (1) our 11-month tuition-free full-stack simulated workplace, (2) employment at MCA’s for-profit software development subsidiary Mississippi CodeWorks or elsewhere, and (3) CPE with AWS Educate to AWS Senior DevOps Engineer or other similar certifications. We have multiple scrums with a senior instructor linked virtually to remote locations, each with a junior instructor and coders.

Change Lives: TEMME can enable thousands of underserved coders to transform from low-skilled, low-wage workers into professionals with a potential career in tech, increasing their income and satisfaction enormously.

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Film your elevator pitch.

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What specific problem are you solving?

Under-representation of the underserved, minorities, and women in tech. The EEOC’s report Diversity in High Tech measures under-representation of African Americans (7.4% vs. 14.4%), Hispanics (8% vs. 13.9%), and women (36% vs. 48%) in tech relative to the private sector overall and that women are significantly underrepresented in tech executive positions. 

Shortage of Software Developers. Nationally, several million jobs are probably available given (1) possible reshoring of work sent overseas, (2) unlisted jobs (discouraged employers), and (3) growth in need for coders. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a national growth rate of 22% in employment over 2019-2029 among Software Developers, QA Analysts, and Testers. 

Lack of a Direct Path from First Coding to Senior Developer. Coding education is fragmented among 2- and 4-year colleges, three- to four-month for-profit boot camps, and self-education online. There is no single system that takes learners from their first lines of code through senior developers. Coders must piece it together themselves. This fragmentation is particularly difficult for those outside of the traditional sources of coders, including single parents and high-potential low-skilled workers.

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What is your solution?

MS Coding Academy 

Coders learn full-stack coding over 11 months in a 35-hour/week simulated workplace, developing code 70% of the time; lectures are 30%. Instructors have current industry experience. Coders will make several project presentations to IT professionals and hiring managers.

We operate in Jackson and several other locations. Our senior instructors also live stream to several remote scrums, each with a junior instructor.

We operate a part-time evening program for current workers with an identical curriculum. It is 10 hours per week in the scrum and 15-25 hours of solo coding.

After four months, high-performing coders can work part-time for CodeWorks, eliminating the need for non-tech jobs. Most coders are hired after graduation, some before completion.

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MSCW will employ many of the graduates. It will sell equity to impact investors, and the distributions from MCA's ownership will partially fund the training of new coders.

With AWS Educate, we provide CPE leading to AWS Certification at the third and highest level. Both MCA and CodeWorks are minority-majority (70% black, 30-50% female), thus having an intrinsically minority-friendly culture.

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Our solution provides a direct integrated path to Senior Software Developer and is cost-free to the coders.

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Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

Underserved Young Adults and Under-skilled Workers: Those coders who come to the Mississippi Coding Academies are either (1) economically underserved and historically underrepresented in tech or (2) low-skilled, high-potential workers looking to upskill. 70% are African Americans, between 30% and 50% are female. Few have advanced education. Most are currently in low-wage jobs or under-employed.

Displaced Workers: Many workers now find themselves displaced into a weak job market by COVID-19 and need to upskill.

Veterans: Our COMCAST Veterans Code program upskills existing workers, qualifying them for enhanced employment. They earned 25 certifications (full-stack, front-end, or back-end certificates) in the first two cohorts.  COMCAST featured two of the grads on their website.

Understanding and Engaging: We show our coders a pathway to a tech career and in a simulated workplace (not a traditional classroom). Learning to code requires learning to self-educate and ingraining it as a habit.

We have a high teacher-to-student ratio (usually one in ten). Traditional online ed (pre-COVID) usually lacks the human touch and contact. The academic approach lacks the intensity of our human touch. When the coders are writing code (70% of the time), our instructors operate more like coaches. This helps us understand their needs and engages in real-time with an intensity unmatched by other methods.

Address Needs: TEMME addresses racial justice, diversity, inclusion, income inequality reduction, and economic development for its coders and their communities by preparing and launching them in tech careers, increasing their income and life satisfaction. They come out with the coding proficiency and soft skills for a tech career. Typically, they start at 2x-5x their prior income and should progress to over $75,000 in mid-career, much more with continuing ed.

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Which dimension of the Digital Workforce Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Reduce inequalities in the digital workforce for historically underserved groups through improved hiring and retention practices, skills assessments, training, and employer education and engagement
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Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

Digital Skills and Training, Reduce Inequities & Equitable Access: 70% of our coders are African American, 30-50% are women, most are in low-wage jobs, not destined for higher-ed.

One of our scrums serves the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Tribe at the reservation. We are accessible to coders with physical disabilities. Coding is particularly well suited for single parents and those with certain mental special needs such as autism.

Wraparound Support: We have an alumni group and maintain involvement with our grads. CodeWorks provides a minority-majority culture with an employer whose culture is defined by the coders, not an existing company.

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In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Jackson, Mississippi, USA
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Is your solution already being implemented in one or more of the following ServiceNow locations (Australia/New Zealand, Canada, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, the United Kingdom, United States), or are you planning to expand your solution to one or more of these countries?

My solution is already being implemented in one or more of these ServiceNow locations

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What is your solution’s stage of development?

Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth.
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Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.

MCA graduated 98 coders with a 67% completion rate and an 89% placement rate (% of graduates with jobs in the field or who went on to higher ed) pre-COVID. 

Coders’ income increased two to five times, averaging ~$38,000 and a career path with expected income in five years of over $70,000 in Mississippi. 

We have 100 coders in training in the fifth cohort.

We have locations in Mississippi: Jackson (2), Columbus. Coahoma County, the Mississippi Band of the Choctaw Tribe, and the Gulf Coast.

We have many interested coders: 300 applicants for 35 slots on the Coast. 

We have added a  part-time evening program to complement the full-time day program.

We have received strong positive feedback from stakeholders) donors, employers, the public schools, local colleges and universities, and the community).

We made the finalist round in MIT Solve: Reimagining Pathways to Employment and in XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling.

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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Richard A. Sun, CFA

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the ServiceNow US Racial Equity Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use the ServiceNow Digital Equity Prize to advance your solution?

We will use the Prize (the recognition, validation, cash, and enhanced networking) to build out our staff and board to exceed DEI standards and be a representative of our coders and instructors. We currently have a volunteer board (several of whom are on an interim basis taking active leadership roles), instructors, and coders with junior admin staff.  We do not have an Executive Director of MCA, a permanent President/CEO of CodeWorks, nor the initial team for CodeWorks (Product Owners, Dev Team Leads, etc.).  

We have four African Americans identified to join MCA or CodeWorks in senior positions, subject to funding. We are beginning the fundraising process for CodeWorks (probably Mission Driven Investments from major foundations or Impact Investment from family offices). Rich Sun, the Team Lead is currently the Interim CEO/President and expects to transition out when funded. From its founding in 2017 until this Spring, the Rich was Director of Jackson. He led the formation of our partnership with DSC Training Academy, a workforce development organization in South Jackson, led by Willie Jones. He initiated Willie’s appointment as Director of Jackson and her joining our Board of Directors. This summer the new cohort reached 60 coders (70% African American and increased to 50% female), up from the pandemic constrained virtual cohort of 17 graduates.

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More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful
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What makes your solution innovative?

While coding is taught and learned in many ways, we have yet to find a program that combines our core features the way we do with method or obtains our level of results. Several of the top five tech companies said that our model is unique.

MCA’s distinctive features include:

  • a simulated workplace that enables learning coding by coding and learning soft-skills by living them, 

  • an 11-month program that allows sufficient time for the mental integration of “developer thinking,’

  • cost-free to the coders, 

  • current industry instructors teaching current industry languages and practices, 

  • One instructor who is from the demographic of the cohort, and 

  • three project reviews where they present, explain, and defend their projects to IT professionals and hiring managers  who potential employers, 

  • learn coding by coding, learn soft skills by living them, etc.

CodeWorks (and its parent) characteristics include:

  • minority-majority instructors, 

  • a culture defined by the coders,

  • a direct path from the first lines of code to senior software engineer with industry certifications at the highest level,

  • the opportunity to work part-time in tech during the 11-month program. This replaces low-wage, non-tech work with tech work, accelerating the learning process and validating it to the coders with earnings before graduation.  

Our completion and placement rates are unusually high.

Amazon accepted us into AWS Educate, “unusually rare” for a non “.edu.”

Apple sponsored a summer program for k12 students, with our coders as instructors. 

COMCAST funded a part-time evening program to upskill working adults.

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Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

The Enhanced Mississippi Model for EdTech (TEMME) is a new business model and process that combines the elements of learning software development and employment in an unusual or possibly unique synthesis.

We use the technology of a modern software development team in our simulated workplace: PCs, development platform software, Internet connection, streamed virtual meetings, cloud storage, collaboration software, etc. We combine them with lectures (perhaps 30% of scrum time) and coding tasks (70%).  While coding, junior and senior instructors coach “over the shoulder,”  adding the human touch missing in online ed. The available instructors reduce the frustration of a solo coder being stymied by a coding challenge. 

We immerse our coders in the technology and workplace style they will be entering.  The transition from TEMME to the workplace is less than from an academic institution or boot camp. 

Unlike an academic setting, we de-emphasize lectures and focus on “learn by doing” with the tech they will be using on the job.

Remote working technology enabled us to seamlessly transition in March 2020 from in-person coding scrums to virtual scrums with minimal productivity loss on a week’s notice and planning. That same technology has enabled our Hybrid Remote Scrums to expand our reach into more rural areas, teach smaller groups and leverage the scare senior instructor resources.

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Provide evidence that this technology works. Please cite your sources.

In our simulated scrums, we use the same technology or variations of that used by thousands of modern software development teams: PCs, development platform software, Internet connection, streamed virtual meetings, cloud storage, collaboration software, etc. We combine them with lectures (perhaps 30% of scrum time) and coding tasks (70%).  While coding, junior and senior instructors coach “over the shoulder,”  adding the human touch missing in online ed. The available instructors reduce the frustration of a solo coder being stymied by a coding challenge. 

The performance MCA is documented in:

The WKKF Evaluation Report (2017-2020)

Our Key Performance Indicators (MCA wide, 2018 to 2021)

This Academic paper: Mississippi Coding Academies: A Nontraditional Approach to Computer Education

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Audiovisual Media
  • Crowd Sourced Service / Social Networks
  • Software and Mobile Applications
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Does this technology introduce any risks? How are you addressing or mitigating these risks in your solution?

The primary risk we have identified in scaling is maintaining consistency with the model and staying true to what has made us successful and different.

We continuously focus on combining producing industry-qualified coders with being good and fair to the coders we are training.  Like a sports coach, we need to combine rigor and motivation with unity and sensitivity to the individual.

We monitor the self-efficacy and imposter syndrome concerns of our coders. We are enabling the transformation to professional-grade workers, something for which many of the coders were not on track. As much as possible, we try to smooth that process.

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Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Women & Girls
  • Rural
  • Urban
  • Poor
  • Low-Income
  • Minorities & Previously Excluded Populations
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In which countries do you currently operate?

  • United States
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In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • United States
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How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

Current Number of People Served: About 120 coders are in our fifth cohort (60 coders are in Downtown and South Jackson locations 20 in Starkville, 30-35 on the Gulf Coast.

Number Served in One Year: We expect to grow rapidly and serve roughly 230 next year (180 at Jackson and 50 elsewhere).

Number Served in Five Years: We have multiple plans to scale at a range of rates (in one case, up to 10,000 coders in Mississippi alone) depending on funding.  Since we have an extremely high return on investment in human capital (10-30x), we expect to obtain funding. 

We sometimes think of TEMME as Teach for America for coding, reflecting that is a broadly applicable solution and could be implemented on that scale.

Scaling: We expect to scale initially in Mississippi, then throughout the Southeast and Southern Central US regions focusing on areas with similar demographics and eventually throughout the country, focusing on underserved areas.  

We are soliciting the major tech companies to join us as strategic partners.  With their in-kind resources, expertise, credibility could scale much faster.  When our aggressive projections elicit skepticism, we ask: “Well suppose a FAANG or similar company decided to partners with us in a major effort?”  At that point, the aggressive projections become feasible.

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What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and -- importantly -- how will you achieve them?

Our first impact goal is to create systemic change in how underserved communities enter the job market and get entry-level placement with an employer. To break through these systemic barriers that prevent underserved communities in Mississippi from having access to higher-paying jobs, we plan to create 100 coders this year and potentially 10,000 coders over the next five years.

Our second impact goal is to reduce poverty by increasing the individual annual income of the coders by $860 million (10,000 coders at an average income of $86,000, the BLS average for the coders in MS). 

Our third impact goal is to create economic growth opportunities in Mississippi, increasing GDP by $1.5 billion to $4.0 billion annually (in a State with a GDP of about $100 billion) 

Creating these 10,000 coders requires $50 to 150 million.  

There are 2 million full-time coders in the USA and many ex-coders who moved into other tech positions. The unmet US demand is probably 500,000 to one million, and many multiples of that globally. Additional coders are needed because:

  • There are several hundred thousand unfilled coding jobs posted and probably several times that are not advertised for lack of coders (“discouraged employers”).

  • Dev work outsourced offshore would be repatriated if there were available coders,

  • Much work is not undertaken for lack of coders, and

  • Many coders move on to other jobs in tech (sales, customer support, QA, database, network, IT, executives, etc.), creating a constant need for replacements.

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How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

We prepare Evaluation Reports for W. K. Kellogg Foundation for Jackson. We collect the same data for our other locations. 

To show that our program is meeting our impact goals, we use these metrics to measure our progress toward our impact goals.

  • Demographics: underserved young adults, ~70% black, ~30% female
  • Graduates: 100+, primarily underserved youth, proficient full-stack coders
  • Completion Rate: 60%+ overall four cohorts, 73% in the pre-COVID cohort 

To measure the post-graduate success of our graduates in getting entry-level jobs, we gather demographic, educational, and economic background data upon entry to the program and track placement rates, salary increases, places of employment, and their career progression post-graduation.

  • Placement Rate: 83% employed in tech or went to college (first two cohorts)
  • Salary Increase: starting salaries averaged $38,774, a 2x to 5x increase. 

We track their progress to proficiency in three areas: technical coding, communal skills, and work skills during the program. In each of the three reviews, the coders are classed one of five proficiency levels. 

We estimate the impact of our program on the State from the training cost and expected career progression.

  • Cost: declined to $18,300 per graduate in the second year (pre-COVID)
  • GDP Increase: First year: $2-5 million; Five Years: $15-38 million cumulative 
  • Return on Investment: First year: 1½-4x; Five Years: 14-35x ROI
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About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Other, including part of a larger organization (please explain below)

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If you selected Other, please explain here.

Mississippi Coding Academies, LLC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit.  It owns Mississippi CodeWorks, Inc, a for-profit C-corp.  We are considering B-Corp certification for Mississippi CodeWorks and will begin with the B Impact Assessment by evaluating our impact on our community, customers, workers, environment, and internal governance.

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How many people work on your solution team?

The combined MCA and CodeWorks team has: 

  • seven employees (including one part-time employee),

  • five contractors, and

  • an eight-person Board of Directors, several of whom commit 10-50 hours/week.

We have gotten such enthusiastic community buy-in that we have several volunteers (especially developers) who are almost de facto members.

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How long have you been working on your solution?

Approximately five years and eight months. We made the launch decision in February 2017 and began instructing our first cohort in September 2017.

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How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

Richard Sun, as a banker and emerging markets private equity investor, has played a key role in nine startup companies and several innovations. He was the first Entrepreneur in Residence at Innovate Mississippi, is a founder of MCA, and led its Jackson location until 2021. EasyKale, co-founded with Bilal Qizilbash, was a CPG Computer Tech 2020 Pitch Finalist and has been a finalist or semi-finalist in Pepperdine’s Most Fundable Companies competition.


Dr. Sarah Lee is Director of the School of Computing Science and Computer Engineering at the University of Southern Mississippi after nineteen years at FedEx Corporation in the IT division and becoming a full professor and assistant department head in Computer Science of Mississippi State University (a Carnegie Mellon Tier 1 Research University). She is a national leader in STEM education, particularly for women and minorities, and has won numerous major awards.

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Willie Jones joined the MCA board in 2021 and is the Director of the Academies' Jackson locations. Willie is the President of DSC Training Academy with 30 years of experience in workforce development focused on women and minorities in South Jackson.

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Herbert Brown, Senior Instructor at Jackson, previously taught in the Robert Moses Algebra Project.

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Andrew Stamps, Director and Senior Instructor on the Gulf Coast, has 15 years as a developer and is a Ph.D. candidate in CompSci at MSU.

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Aquita Bryant, Instructor at Jackson, is a grad of our first cohort and worked as a coder at a major government research lab.

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What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?

MCA has been minority-majority in our coders and instructors from our beginnings. Initially, we were about 30% female; we have now achieved 50% in Jackson. We have been consistently about 70% African American. We have a broad and deep social media outreach program. Herbert Brown makes multiple information and recruiting visits to Jackson Public Schools that are 90% African American. 

Our partnership, implemented this Spring with Willie Jones and her DSC Training Academy, allowed us to:

  • Include more women (reaching 50% at Jackson),

  • Establish a presence in South Jackson (the most underserved section of Jackson,

  • Add diversity by adding her to our Board and replacing Rich Sun as Director of the 70-person Jackson site (the largest in MCA). 

We have added diversity to our now six-person Board in two African American women and one white female. 

At least one of the classroom instructors is from the group we are training, aligning with lived experiences. Our junior instructors are graduates. These near peers are especially effective. 

Both the Academies and CodeWorks will be positive examples for other companies of DEI in tech. The first four people we have identified for our management and admin team are African Americans. We will prioritize historically underrepresented team members as we scale. 

Our team understands historically underrepresented learners’ experiences in software education/development because we have collectively worked in this field for decades. Our belief that we must increase access to the field, especially for women and people of color, unites us.

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Your Business Model & Partnerships

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
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Partnership & Prize Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to the 2021 Digital Workforce Challenge?

We believe that this challenge, with its focus on preparing historically underserved communities to access and prosper in the digital workforce, aligns well with our mission to improve the economic status of many underserved communities in Mississippi, which has historically been one of the poorest communities in the United States. Our hope is that by getting the exposure through winning your challenge, we will be able to support our mission, grow and scale as we move from one intake to four intakes per year, and network with partners and collaborators who we can jointly work with to meet our impact goals.

We believe our Mississippi Model represents a new and superior tool for tech workforce development.  Being selected as a Finalist or Winner will:

  • provide recognition and validation of our solution.

  • access to the resources allocated to the winners,

  • will help us achieve our goals,

  • access to major tech companies with validation from the competition,

  • networking with and advice from this EdTech and workforce development community.

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development, etc.)
  • Financial (e.g. improving accounting practices, pitching to investors)
  • Legal or Regulatory Matters
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Please explain in more detail here.

Human Capital: We seem to have a promising concept that needs to be scaled.  The people and knowledge at tech companies such as ServiceNow could provide advice that would help us scale much faster and more surely. For instance:·      

  • Especially before bringing in an experienced team at CodeWorks, we need advice on scaling fast and operating a software development company. ·      

  • Major tech companies could provide, on a volunteer basis, seconded or part-time, senior industry instructors to MCA and senior staff (dev team leaders, product owners, etc.). 

Financial: While we have experienced finance and startup talent, we do not know the current practices and detailed terms conditions in the private equity market for Mission Driven Investments by Foundations and Impact Investing by VCs, angels, and family offices. We especially wish to learn more about Mission-Driven Investment.

Legal: We need to learn more than available on a website about the IRS constraints imposed on a for-profit owned by a non-profit. CodeWorks will be relatively large compared to MCA. (We think of it as a museum store that dwarfs the museum.)

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What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?

ServiceNow: Knowledge and advice on how to prepare coders for large tech employers. None of the national tech companies have tech centers in our area, so we have not yet accessed that knowledge.

GSV, Imaginable Futures, and New Profit: for funding and advice on preparing for this specific market (EdTech, Impact Investing, etc.)

Ford Foundation: They are a leader in Mission Driven Investing. We would like to discuss its feasibility with Ford and, if appropriate, other major foundations. 

Diversant: It is the largest Black-owned IT staffing firm in the United States. They could help us develop and place our coders as they reach the senior levels at which they operate.

Infosys: It has a focus on training for their needs that might fit with our training.

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Solution Team

  • Mr. Herbert Brown Sr Instructor, Mississippi Coding Academies
  • WJ WJ
    Mrs. Willie Jones Mississippi Coding Academy
  • Dr Sarah Lee Director, School of Computing Sciences and Computer Engineering, University of Southern Mississippi and Board of Directors for MS Coding Academies, University of Southern Mississippi
  • Jonathan Panter Mississippi Coding Academies
  • Mr. Richard Sun CFA Director, Chair/Pres. MS CodeWorks, Mississippi Coding Academies & CodeWorks
 
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