2016 was a big year for equitable innovation in Baltimore - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Dec. 29, 2016 12:57 pm

2016 was a big year for equitable innovation in Baltimore

Charlotte James on how a movement came to life.

Charlotte James accepts Code in the Schools' 2016 Baltimore Innovation Award.

(Courtesy photo)

This is a guest post by Code in the Schools' Charlotte James.
Let’s face it, 2016 was rough. Like really rough. Yet, in true Baltimore fashion, our city pushed onward and upward, making 2016 one of the most successful years in tech to date.

2016 has been an especially important year in forwarding the conversation around equitable innovation in Baltimore. During the inaugural Light City Festival, the “We Got Next” panel at the social innovation conference brought together local leaders of color to address the lack of diversity in the social entrepreneurship and innovation sectors. Andre Robinson of Innovation Village showed a map of tech investment in Baltimore, illuminating the isolated pockets where capital is concentrated, and the exclusionary patterns that reinforce economic inequality. For me, and I think for many people in that room, this panel was the catalyst for larger conversations around how we actively change this and ensure that all Baltimoreans are included in our growing 21st century economy.

Innovation Village team members including Richard May (far left) (photo by Stephen Babcock)

Innovation Village team members including Richard May (far left). (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Flash forward nine months, and Innovation Village announced their intentions to open their first innovation center in the soon to be redeveloped Madison Park North project. While we have yet to see how this development plays out, it is nonetheless exciting to see proposed equitable spaces included in mainstream projects.

There were plenty of newcomers landing on the scene this year to help push these discussions further and ensure tangible results. Brioxy, the “first network fighting for economic opportunity and health for young people of color,” was founded in California and expanded to Baltimore in the past 18 months. Brioxy’s founder, B. Cole, is especially focused on creating community and encouraging collaboration between technologists, entrepreneurs and creatives. In November, Brioxy held the first Baltimore Black Tech Mixer at the historic Eubie Blake Jazz Center in West Baltimore. The event, sponsored by Google and Twitter, attracted over 50 innovators, technologists, and entrepreneurs of color. The focus was on highlighting the incredible talent being fostered in Baltimore and aimed to begin creating a network to support and grow this talent.

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It’s hard to talk about the future of the Baltimore tech scene without highlighting the work being done by local tech education organizations to prepare the next generation. Maintaining the city’s position as an innovation hub and attracting business requires a highly skilled workforce. I am of course a bit biased, but I must say, this was a big year for Code in the Schools (CITS) and our STEM ecosystem friends! More and more advocates are focusing on expanding access to traditionally underserved and underrepresented communities. By helping youth build the skills increasingly in demand by business, we are preparing them for jobs that support families and lead to well-paying careers, while building a competitive local labor force and ensuring a prosperous future for our city.

In celebration of Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 5 to Dec. 11 this year), CITS, Maryland Out-of-School Time Network, Digital Harbor Foundation, Baltimore Robotics Center, Open Works and FutureMakers came together with key elected officials from the city and state level to showcase the hard work done over the past year, and to highlight computer science, and tech workforce training as a central component for the social and economic success of our city. In 2016, our organizations collectively served 10,000 Baltimore city youth ages 5 through 21. CITS employed over 60 youth this summer through our partnership with Youthworks and expanded our after-school tech vocational training program, the Prodigy Program, to include youth up to age 21 who may be disconnected from traditional educational institutions.

A Batimore Innovation Award winners' selfie. (Courtesy photo)

A Batimore Innovation Award winners’ selfie. (Courtesy photo)

To top it all off, we won a Technically Baltimore Innovation Award for Best Tech Mission Organization of 2016! As we enter 2017, we will use a newly acquired grant to convene education and industry partners to refocus CTE (career technical education) curriculum and create a stronger school to jobs, and higher-ed, pipeline.

2017 is bound to be a challenging year, but if we continue to support each other, and our communities through accessible, equitable and innovative programming, we’re bound to maintain the momentum that carried us through this past tough year. As a Baltimore resident, a change-making millennial and a technology advocate, I commit to pushing the boundaries in 2017 and ensuring that we rise together.

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