Diversity & Inclusion

Academy Pittsburgh is expected to live on, despite parent org Work Hard’s shutdown

Here's what the entrepreneurship resource hub's founder, Josh Lucas, said is needed to fill the gap in support for local founders.

Josh Lucas, founder and executive director of Work Hard Pittsburgh. (Photo via LinkedIn)
Amid prolonged financial difficulties throughout the pandemic, entrepreneurship resource hub and coworking space Work Hard Pittsburgh is “winding down” its operations.

The news comes after the organization’s nearly 10 years as a place for people without technical backgrounds to explore opportunities in Pittsburgh’s tech entrepreneurship community. Beyond its incubation programming and coworking spaces, Work Hard also supports the operations of coding bootcamp Academy Pittsburgh, which is the only side of the business that will likely remain following the shutdown, Work Hard founder and Executive Director Josh Lucas said in a letter posted on its website.

Lucas and his organization have been fixtures in the Pittsburgh tech scene over the last decade. They have supported the growth of some of the city’s top entrepreneurs, such as Black Tech Nation founder and CEO Kelauni Jasmyn, who spoke of her ties to Work Hard in a conversation with Lucas at the inaugural RustBuilt Pittsburgh conference this fall. Across a network of organizations, this worker-owned cooperative effort provided founders with places to work and connect with resources for growth, with a goal of making Pittsburgh’s tech industry more equitable and beneficial to all residents.

“Our intent was to create systems that would allow for equitable wealth building, and to a large degree we were successful,” Lucas wrote in the letter. He added that Work Hard’s efforts led to $30 million worth of wages earned for participants of its programming, including Academy Pittsburgh, with $15 million of that total going to people from underrepresented groups in tech. The letter also noted that $10 million of wages were paid out to freelance workers through Work Hard’s digital platform.

Despite these markers of success, Lucas attributed the wind down to a stalled growth of “new products” and a need for more funding that the organization wasn’t able to obtain.

“After taking a bit of a thrashing from a global pandemic, the core team has decided it is time to end this experiment and begin the painful process of liquidating assets including our longtime home, 744 E. Warrington Ave.,” he continued. The letter noted that the property has impact requirements, and thus restrictions on who can purchase it and what it can be used for in the future to preserve its value to the surrounding community.

Headshot of John Lange, director and founder of Academy Pittsburgh.

John Lange. (Photo via LinkedIn)

As for Academy Pittsburgh, Lucas suggested in his letter that the program will be reorganized and continue operations. The coding bootcamp, founded and directed by John Lange, is one of the most affordable in Pittsburgh and prioritizes giving people from underrepresented backgrounds an entryway into the tech industry.

“Academy is being restructured for sustainability,” Lucas confirmed in an email to Technical.ly. “We don’t expect there to be changes in programming.”

In a separate email, Lange added, “Academy is partially owned by the Work Hard Co-op and so we are trying to figure out what that means as the coop is winding down. The day to day of Academy is not changing much, we are continuing our classes although previously we had used Work Hard for our marketing and outreach, and as they go away, we will be using other providers for those services.”

Overall though, Lucas noted in both his letter and his email that Pittsburgh needs more resources for founders looking to grow here in the long term. His letter alluded to an uneven concentration of power and funding that limits who has access to entrepreneurship opportunities here. (Read our story “Who makes $200K in Pittsburgh? Tech careers, race and economic mobility” for more on that topic.)

“PGH needs more resources for entrepreneurs, especially those who are not on the startup track,” Lucas told Technical.ly. “Reinvesting in existing organizations like New Sun Rising and Ascender is probably the best strategy for filling the gap.”

Lange echoed that point, and added that the closure of Work Hard and its coworking space doesn’t mean that its members would lose contact with each other.

“Some members who have desks will be going to other coworking spaces,” he said, “but the reality is a lot of the resources of Work Hard were made by the membership, and all of those people are connected an a myriad of ways via social media and work engagements.”

The full shutdown process across the organization’s operations and programming will take a full two quarters, he noted. But those needs will be fulfilled by contract workers, and all full-time and part-time staff of Work Hard will leave by the end of the year.

Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Academy Pittsburgh
People: Academy Pittsburgh / Josh Lucas / John Lange
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