COCO launches effort to increase diversity in tech sector

Co-working innovator COCO has launched two new programs designed to encourage more diversity in the high-tech workforce.

It will offer fellowships for entrepreneurs in communities underrepresented in the tech world, including people of color, the GLBT community, women and people with disabilities, among others. The fellowships will be targeted to individual entrepreneurs and startups for small businesses up to four people.

It is also hosting its first entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) — Alex Rodriguez, co-founder of WorkMand, an on-demand platform connecting businesses with local contractors for manual labor services — as part of a partnership with Google for Entrepreneurs and CODE2040, a nonprofit that focuses on increasing the participation of blacks and Latinos in the tech industry.

Alex Rodriguez, CoCo's entrepreneur in residence.
Alex Rodriguez, CoCo’s entrepreneur in residence.

As part of the COCO program, Rodriguez will receive a $40,000 stipend, a COCO membership and a retreat to Googleplex in Silicon Valley for training and networking opportunities as he works on growing his business.

Overall, black and Latino students earn about 18 percent of the country’s computer science degrees, according to CODE2040, but they make up only about 5 percent of the workforce in leading tech companies.

COCO CEO and co-founder Kyle Coolbroth said the programs are “about opening more doors to everyone.”

“Our members have built an unrivaled community of intelligence, experience and support that we want to share broadly and more diversely,” he said. “As COCO grows, we want to foster a community that is inclusive for all entrepreneurs and to make it possible for those with constraints to join us.”

The fellowship program has attracted sponsor partners, including local companies Sunrise Banks and Clockwork Active Media Systems.

“The Twin Cities is a hotbed of innovation but there’s a lack of access for many startups that could really fuel a big part of our state’s future economy,” Coolbroth said. “We believe that the more established members of the Twin Cities business community we can involve, the more we’ll be able to fund and foster a rich, diverse business ecosystem.”

The City of Minneapolis is also part of the White House’s TechHire initiative, which also focuses on providing training for people of color and women interested in high tech careers.

As of February, 285 people have completed accelerated training programs and 135 graduates have landed full-time jobs with salaries averaging $48,364, according to a city fact sheet. Thirty-two percent of graduates are women and 24 percent people of color.