Robert F. Smith on Internships and Early Exposure to Work in STEM

Black North Talks

Canada’s BlackNorth Initiative, a nonprofit devoted to ending anti-Black systemic racism in Canada’s corporate sector, hosted “BlackNorth Talks: The Legacy of Black Entrepreneurship with Robert F. Smith,” in February. Smith fielded questions on business, philanthropy and entrepreneurship, but there was one subject he returned to whether he spoke of STEM learning or business leadership. That subject was the value of internships. 

Wes Hall, Founder and Chairman of the BlackNorth Initiative, took Smith back to his origins from the start of the event, asking Smith about his upbringing and to describe what helped him decide to pursue a career in STEM. Smith has spoken on the value of STEM education and internships before, but with Hall drawing him out, he provided a glimpse of the tenacious, serious student he was at Denver East High School.      

Smith, Bell Labs and the “Joy of Figuring Things Out”

Smith began by saying that he is a member of the first generation in his family to have all of his rights as an American. And he provided a timeline to contextualize his perception of his place in the Black community in which he was brought up. He was born in 1962. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act became law in 1964 and 1965, respectively. Smith said these key civil rights provisions were something that has resonated in “the core” of his being and part of his drive to fully take part in the offerings available to him.

Before Smith fought for his early internship at Bell Labs as a high school senior, he had two formative experiences that started him on the road to what he called the “joy of figuring things out.” The first was provided by a community member who volunteered to teach a group of students, including Smith, about rocketry. The second was a computer class his junior year of high school. In the first instance, Smith said that a significant proportion of the students in that unofficial rocket club went on to become engineers. In the second, Smith obtained his first experience of computers in the late ‘70s. 

“I’d never experienced computers at the time.” Smith said. “And I talked to my teacher and I said ‘Well, how do these things work?’ And he told me about this thing called a transistor. And I said, ‘Well, that’s pretty interesting. Well, who invented those?’ And he said, ‘This place called Bell Labs.’ And so I did some research and found out there was actually a Bell Labs in Colorado. So, I called the Human Resources person at Bell Labs […].”

 The rest is history, but Smith’s personal experience is backed by research.

Early Exposure to STEM Can Change Student Trajectories 

Studies show that early exposure to STEM allows young students to perceive a future career and establish the goals to achieve that aim. Smith’s early experiences, along with his internship at Bell Labs, exposed him to the world of technology and to what would become the “digital revolution” which Smith said was how he realized his calling to science and eventually the financial technology sector. Because, at the time, there were very few Black engineers and scientists in the world and none whatsoever in his neighborhood. 

“[…] when I walked through the halls of Bell Labs, there weren’t many brown faces, at all,” Smith said. “But I saw the type of money people were making. I saw the type of inventions they got to do, and I was wondering why didn’t we get that work? And when I went back to my community I realized there were no engineers in my neighborhood, in my community. And the vast majority of the people at Bell Labs were engineers.”

That was why Smith decided it was important for him to become an engineer and begin building his problem-solving skills. It’s also why Smith is a vocal advocate for internships, to ensure college-age STEM students get the internship opportunities they need to expose them to technology, analysis and the personal mentorship that can inspire a 17-year-old to expand their world view. 

Virtual Internships Can Be a Great Opportunity

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), summer 2020 internships moved forward online, with some dropoff due to social distancing protocols. And according to one museum administrator, the digital internship is here to stay.

Hall asked Smith if students, who are right now by necessity exploring and participating in virtual internships, would have the same opportunities as an in-person experience. Smith replied that virtual internships might offer even more opportunity for today’s students. Smith said the most important part of his internship was the dynamic of discovery and learning how to learn. His boss helped him formulate a “process of unpacking problems and thinking through the solutions,” which can be achieved online. And online, students are not limited to the people on their immediately assigned team. They have access to a wealth of sources and experts online. 

But Smith did offer a tip for students looking at internships this year to “take the time” to unpack their internship experience, beyond the experience of the daily work. Find experts. Engage. Be proactive. He also encouraged students to share their knowledge with peers and younger students as tutors and mentors themselves. Not only does it help solidify the leaning, but Smith said it can serve the Black community as well.

Build a Path to the Top With Internships 

Smith said the time has come to build pathways to the C-Suite for Black and minority professionals. Part of that pipeline is internships. Smith explained a holistic approach to building a pipeline to inclusive talent pools and ensuring that excellence is identified and nurtured so that minorities are in the right place to get identified for higher level positions. 

“We just have to, as a broader society, [realize] that not only is racism wrong, it’s just bad. It’s bad for the economy,” Smith said.
Read more about how internships can bridge the career opportunity gap faced by Black students. And find out more about internX, an internship program for minority students, supported by the Fund II Foundation, a non-profit organization whose founding mission includes the principals of education outreach and providing the tools to explore American innovation.

Across our Communities

MBE Entrepreneurship & Supplier Diversity

1. Provide technical expertise: offer subject matter and technical expertise to catalyze and support community initiatives 

E.g., tax/accounting experts to help MBEs file taxes

E.g., business experts to help MBEs better access capital and craft business plans to scale their teams and operations

Access to Capital (CDFI/MDI)

2. Fund modernization & capacity-building and provide in-kind subject matter experts – $30M: help 4-5 CDFIs/MDIs over 5 years modernize their core systems, hire and train staff, expand marketing and standup SWAT team of experts to conduct needs diagnostic, implement tech solution & provide technical assistance

Systems and technology modernization – $10M-15M: Add/upgrade core banking systems, hardware and productivity tools, train frontline workforce on new systems & technology and hire engineering specialists to support customization and news systems rollout – over 5 years

Talent and workforce – $10M: hire and train additional frontline lending staff and invest in recruiting, training, compensation & benefits and retention to increase in-house expertise and loan capacity – over 5 years

Other capacity-building and outreach – $8M: hire additional staff to increase custom borrower and technical assistance (e.g., credit building, MBE financing options, etc.) and increase community outreach to drive regional awareness and new pipeline projects – over 5 years

Education/HBCU & Workforce Development

3. Offer more paid internships: signup onto InternX and offer 25+ additional paid internships per year to HBCU/Black students 

Digital Access

4. Issue digital access equality bonds: issue equality progress bonds and invest proceeds into SCI’s digital access initiatives

5. Fund HBCU campus-wide internet – up to $50M in donations or in-kind: Partner with the Student Freedom Initiative to deliver campus-wide high-speed internet at ~10 HBCUs across SCI regions

Advocacy

6. Be an advocate for SCI priorities: engage federal and state agencies to drive policy and funding improvements to better support SCI’s near-term priorities

E.g., Engage the Small Business Administration and Minority Business Development Agency to increase technical assistance programs and annual spend to better support Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs) with capital and scaling needs

E.g., Ask the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to include multi-dwelling unit connectivity in its new broadband connectivity maps and ask the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to allow non-FCC data in state broadband plans to unlock ~$285M in potential government broadband funding for 5 SCI regions

Directly Fund SCI

7. Invest directly into SCI (coming soon): provide funding for SCI to pool and invest in community initiatives that are most well-positioned for funding and can drive direct community impact.

Memphis, Tennessee

Lead community organization: The Collective Blueprint

MBE Entrepreneurship & Supplier Diversity

Our ambition:

Increase the volume and value of Black-owned businesses – through corporate MBE spend and MBE startups & scaling

1. Scale technical assistance – $15M: fund* to expand technical assistance through business coaches and wrap-around services for 500+ MBEs over 5 years to help them scale from <$1M to $5M+ in annual revenue

2. Standup MBE fund – $15M: standup/scale MBE fund* to offer more flexible access to capital arrangements 400-500 MBEs over 5 years

 * Lead organization: The Collective Blueprint; Contributing local organizations for community strategy include (but not limited to): Community Unlimited, Women’s Business Center South, Epicenter, others

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): 2.3x increase in MBE value & 20K+ new jobs, boosting Black community’s net worth by ~$3B+

Access to Capital (CDFI/MDI)

Our ambition:

Modernize CDFI/MDI systems and tech as well as recruit and upskill talent to increase CDFI/MDI capacity and ability to inject more capital into Black communities

3. Provide loan guarantees – $15M: create a fund* to provide 80% loan guarantees over 5 years to encourage lender participation and inject more capital into the community

4. Conduct advocacy: ask US Treasury & Tennessee State to allow Tennessee CDFIs/MDIs to retain SSBCI capital & offer loan guarantees to boost loan issuance

5. Fund modernization & capacity-building and provide in-kind subject matter experts – $30M: help 4-5 CDFIs/MDIs** over 5 years modernize their core systems, hire and train staff, expand marketing and standup a SWAT team of experts to conduct needs diagnostic, implement tech solution & provide technical assistance

  • Systems and technology modernization – $10M-15M: Add/upgrade core banking systems, hardware and productivity tools, train frontline workforce on new systems & technology and hire engineering specialists to support customization and news systems rollout – over 5 years
  • Talent and workforce – $10M: hire and train additional frontline lending staff and invest in recruiting, training, compensation & benefits and retention to increase in-house expertise and loan capacity – over 5 years
  • Other capacity-building and outreach – $8M: hire additional staff to increase custom borrower and technical assistance (e.g., credit building, MBE financing options, etc.) and increase community outreach to drive regional awareness and new pipeline projects – over 5 years

* Leading organizations for community strategy include (but not limited to): Community LIFT, Memphis CDFI Network, etc.

* In partnership with National Bankers Association and Appalachian Community Capital; CDFIs/MDIs being considered include: Community Unlimited, Hope Credit Union, River City Capital, United Housing Inc, etc.

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): ~$330M+ in additional loans per year to support ~30K+ MBEs

Education/HBCU & Workforce Development

Our ambition:

Lower financial burden for Black students, increase number of Black college graduates, increase Black workforce and executive representation and their access to high-paying jobs

6. Standup training hub – $30M: fund* the establishment a world-class training hub that offers certificate-granting STEM and innovation programs in advanced manufacturing, health care, etc. to 10K+ youths

7. Fund SFI program – $7M: fund the Student Freedom Initiative’s Income Contingent Alternative to Parent Plus to support ~15 Black STEM students per year forever at 4 HBCUs**

* Lead organization: The Collective Blueprint; Contributing local organizations for community strategy include (but not limited to): Greater Memphis Chamber and Workforce Midsouth

** Minority Serving Institutions / HBCUs with STEM programs being considered: Le Moyne-Owen, Baptist Memorial, University of Memphis, Rust College

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): 8K+ additional college graduates and 10K workers with high-paying wages to drive ~$1B+ in economic growth

Digital Access

Our ambition:

Increase accessibility, affordability and adoption of high-speed Internet

8. Accelerate digital access initiatives – $75M: partner with local orgs* to invest in setting up internet connections / installing hotspots, offering laptops and supporting adoption (through government subsidy technical assistance and digital literacy) to connect ~135K homes to high-speed internet in the Memphis region

9. Raise community awareness & adoption of Emergency Broadband Benefit: increase door-to-door and community outreach in low-income neighborhoods to get households onto EBB to help connect ~135K unconnected households 

 * Lead organization: The Collective Blueprint; Contributing local organizations for community strategy include (but not limited to): CodeCrew

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): ~135K households connected to high-speed internet to unlock ~$2B+ in economic potential

Houston, Texas

Lead community organization: Greater Houston Partnership

MBE Entrepreneurship & Supplier Diversity

Our ambition:

Increase the volume and value of Black-owned businesses – through corporate MBE spend and MBE startups & scaling

1. Scale team – ~$3M: hire 3-4 FTEs over 5 years for One Houston Together* to help companies increase MBE spend from ~2% to 5-10%+ as well as BIPOC workforce advancement and BIPOC board representation 

2. Increase MBE certification and scale technical assistance – ~$2M: partner with One Houston Together* and the Houston Minority Supplier Development Council (HSMDC)** to certify additional MBEs, develop Minority Business Finder database tool and provide resources and services to help local MBEs scale and participate in Pathways to Excellence program

3. Commit to increase racial diversity in supply chain and procurement: increase MBE spend in Greater Houston region* to 5-10%+

* One Houston Together serves as lead (please contact if you are interested in funding these initiatives)

** Houston Minority Supplier Development Council (HSMDC) serves as a partner organization (please contact if you are interested in learning more about this initiative)

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): 2.5x increase in MBE value & ~55K new jobs, boosting Black community’s net worth by ~$12B 

Access to Capital (CDFI/MDI)

Our ambition:

Modernize CDFI/MDI systems and tech as well as recruit and upskill talent to increase CDFI/MDI capacity and ability to inject more capital into Black communities

4. Fund modernization & capacity-building and provide in-kind subject matter experts – $30M: help 4-5 CDFIs/MDIs* over 5 years modernize their core systems, hire and train staff, expand marketing and standup SWAT team of experts to conduct needs diagnostic, implement tech solution & provide technical assistance

  • Systems and technology modernization – $10M-15M: Add/upgrade core banking systems, hardware and productivity tools, train frontline workforce on new systems & technology and hire engineering specialists to support customization and news systems rollout – over 5 years
  • Talent and workforce – $10M: hire and train additional frontline lending staff and invest in recruiting, training, compensation & benefits and retention to increase in-house expertise and loan capacity – over 5 years
  • Other capacity-building and outreach – $8M: hire additional staff to increase custom borrower and technical assistance (e.g., credit building, MBE financing options, etc.) and increase community outreach to drive regional awareness and new pipeline projects – over 5 years

* In partnership with National Bankers Association and Appalachian Community Capital; CDFIs/MDIs being considered include: Unity National Bank, Unity Bank of Texas, PeopleFund, Houston Business Development Inc, etc.

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): ~$330M in additional loans per year to support ~30K MBEs

Education/HBCU & Workforce Development

Our ambition:

Lower financial burden for Black students, increase number of Black college graduates, increase Black workforce and executive representation and their access to high-paying jobs

5. Fund SFI program – $120M: fund the Student Freedom Initiative’s Income Contingent Alternative to Parent Plus* to support ~1.2K Black STEM students per year forever at 7 HBCUs**

* Student Freedom Initiative serves as lead (main contact if you are interested in learning more and funding this initiative)

** Minority Serving Institutions / HBCUs with STEM programs being considered: Texas Southern University, University of Houston, Prairie View A&M University, Houston Baptist University, University of Houston-Clear Lake, University of Houston-Downtown, University of St Thomas.  

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): 5K+ additional college grads & ~600 workers with senior exec positions / high-paying wages to drive ~$0.2B in economic growth

Digital Access

Our ambition:

Increase accessibility, affordability and adoption of high-speed Internet

6. Accelerate SCI’s digital access initiatives – up to $80M in donations or in-kind: invest in setting up internet connections / hotspots, offer laptops/Chromebooks and support adoption (through government subsidy technical assistance and digital literacy) to connect ~145K homes to high-speed internet in the Houston region*

7. Raise community awareness & adoption of Emergency Broadband Benefit: increase door-to-door and community outreach in low-income neighborhoods to get households onto EBB to help connect ~145K unconnected households 

* Community organization(s) being identified 

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): ~145K households connected to high-speed internet to unlock ~$3B in economic potential

Greater New Orleans, Louisiana

Lead community organization: Urban League of Louisiana

MBE Entrepreneurship & Supplier Diversity

Our ambition:

Increase the volume and value of Black-owned businesses – through corporate MBE spend and MBE startups & scaling

1. Scale Black Business Works Fund – $10M: grow the Urban League of Louisiana’s Black Business Works Fund to support ~3K-4K MBEs over 5 years with emergency working capital needs to support/sustain ~$1B+ in annual revenues

2. Scale technical assistance – $20M: fund the Urban League of Louisiana, New Orleans Business Alliance, Thrive New Orleans and Propellor to scale bookkeeping, B2C payment, marketing support & subsidized rent to scale 200+ MBEs from <$1M to $5M+ in annual revenue

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): 2.5x increase in MBE value & 8K+ new jobs, boosting Black community’s net worth by ~$2B+

Access to Capital (CDFI/MDI)

Our ambition:

Modernize CDFI/MDI systems and tech as well as recruit and upskill talent to increase CDFI/MDI capacity and ability to inject more capital into Black communities

3. Fund modernization & capacity-building and provide in-kind subject matter experts – $30M: help 4-5 CDFIs/MDIs* over 5 years modernize their core systems, hire and train staff, expand marketing and standup SWAT teams to conduct needs diagnostic, implement tech solution & provide technical assistance

  • Systems and technology modernization – $10M-15M: Add/upgrade core banking systems, hardware and productivity tools, train frontline workforce on new systems & technology and hire engineering specialists to support customization and news systems rollout – over 5 years
  • Talent and workforce – $10M: hire and train additional frontline lending staff and invest in recruiting, training, compensation & benefits and retention to increase in-house expertise and loan capacity – over 5 years
  • Other capacity-building and outreach – $8M: hire additional staff to increase custom borrower and technical assistance (e.g., credit building, MBE financing options, etc.) and increase community outreach to drive regional awareness and new pipeline projects – over 5 years

* In partnership with National Bankers Association and Appalachian Community Capital; CDFIs/MDIs being considered include: New Orleans Business Alliance (community convener), Liberty, TruFund, LiftFund, NewCorp, etc.

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): ~$330M in additional loans per year to support ~30K MBEs

Education/HBCU & Workforce Development

Our ambition:

Lower financial burden for Black students, increase number of Black college graduates, increase Black workforce and executive representation and their access to high-paying jobs

4. Subsidize internships & apprenticeships – $40M: fund the New Orleans Youth Alliance, YouthForce NOLA and the Urban League of Louisiana to place and help subsidize apprenticeships, internships and other work-based learning experiences for ~20K young adults in high-pay sectors (e.g., energy)

5. Fund SFI program – $12M: fund the Student Freedom Initiative’s Income Contingent Alternative to Parent Plus to support ~120 Black STEM students per year forever at 3 HBCUs*

* Minority Serving Institutions / HBCUs being considered: Dillard University, Southern University – New Orleans and Xavier University of Louisiana

6. Scale career prep – ~$10M: scale the New Orleans Youth Alliance and YouthForce NOLA with 15-20 coaches over 5 years to equip ~20K young adults with skills for high-paying industries, job search & prep and subsidized transportation

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): ~2K additional college graduates and ~20K workers with high-paying wages to drive ~$1B in economic growth

Digital Access

Our ambition:

Increase accessibility, affordability and adoption of high-speed Internet

7. Accelerate SCI’s digital access initiatives – up to $35M in donations or in-kind: partner with New Orleans’s Office of Information Technology & Innovation and Education SuperHighway to invest in setting up internet connections / hotspots, offering laptops/Chromebook and supporting adoption (through government subsidy technical assistance and digital literacy) to connect ~55K homes to high-speed internet in Greater New Orleans region

8. Raise community awareness & adoption of Emergency Broadband Benefit: increase door-to-door and community outreach in low-income neighborhoods to get households onto EBB to help connect ~55K unconnected households

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): 55K households connected to high-speed internet to unlock ~$1B in economic potential

Charlotte, North Carolina

Lead community organization: Charlotte Regional Business Alliance

MBE Entrepreneurship & Supplier Diversity

Our ambition:

Increase the volume and value of Black-owned businesses – through corporate MBE spend and MBE startups & scaling

1. Offer in-kind FTEs: provide 2-5 in-kind FTEs to the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance (CRBA) over 5 years to convene corporate partners, assess their MBE spend, develop pipeline to increase MBE spend to 5-10%+

2. Offer technical assistance expertise: partner with the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance (CRBA) to advise/mentor ~200 MBEs on capital/loan access to help them scale from <$10M to $50M+

3. Commit to supplier diversity: increase MBE spend in Charlotte region to 5-10%+

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): 3x increase in MBE value & ~13K new jobs, boosting Black community’s net worth by ~$2B+

Access to Capital (CDFI/MDI)

Our ambition:

Modernize CDFI/MDI systems and tech as well as recruit and upskill talent to increase CDFI/MDI capacity and ability to inject more capital into Black communities

4. Fund modernization & capacity-building and provide in-kind subject matter experts – $30M: help 4-5 CDFIs/MDIs* over 5 years modernize their core systems, hire and train staff, expand marketing and standup SWAT team of experts to conduct needs diagnostic, implement tech solution & provide technical assistance; in-kind experts to also help build out the MBE ecosystem through CDFIs/MDIs, market CDFI/MDI offerings and programs and help draft final loan agreements to qualify borrowers between investment fund(s) and CDFIs/MDIs

* CDFIs/MDIs being considered (examples and not exhaustive): Security Federal Bank, Institute / North Carolina Community Development Initiative, Sequoyah Fund Inc, Self-Help Credit Union, BEFCOR, Aspire Community Capital, etc.

  • Systems and technology modernization – $10M-15M: Add/upgrade core banking systems, hardware and productivity tools, train frontline workforce on new systems & technology and hire engineering specialists to support customization and news systems rollout – over 5 years
  • Talent and workforce – $10M: hire and train additional frontline lending staff and invest in recruiting, training, compensation & benefits and retention to increase in-house expertise and loan capacity – over 5 years
  • Other capacity-building and outreach – $8M: hire additional staff to increase custom borrower and technical assistance (e.g., credit building, MBE financing options, etc.) and increase community outreach to drive regional awareness and new pipeline projects – over 5 years

* In partnership with National Bankers Association and Appalachian Community Capital; CDFIs/MDIs being considered include: Security Federal Bank, Institute / North Carolina Community Development Initiative, Sequoyah Fund Inc, etc.

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): ~$330M in additional loans per year to support ~30K MBEs

Education/HBCU & Workforce Development

Our ambition:

Lower financial burden for Black students, increase number of Black college graduates, increase Black workforce and executive representation and their access to high-paying jobs

5. Fund SFI program – up to $10M: fund the Student Freedom Initiative’s HELPS program to support ~1.5K+ students per year at HBCUs* with emergency expenses – e.g., unexpected health costs, late rent payments, etc.

* Minority Serving Institutions / HBCUs in Charlotte that are being considered: Johnson C. Smith University, Johnson & Wales University – Charlotte, Charlotte Christian College

6. Provide in-kind staff: offer 2-5 FTEs to the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance (CRBA)over 5 years to track Black-/Brown-executive representation, convene corporate partners to develop executive pipeline and hiring plans and support corporate partners to increase representation from ~10% to 30%+

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): 2.5K+ additional college graduates and 2.5K workers with high-paying wages to drive ~$0.2B in economic growth

Digital Access

Our ambition:

Increase accessibility, affordability and adoption of high-speed Internet

7. Raise community awareness & adoption of Emergency Broadband Benefit: increase door-to-door and community outreach in low-income neighborhoods to get households onto EBB to help connect ~35K unconnected households

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): ~35K households get connected to high-speed internet to unlock ~$700M in economic potential for Charlotte

Birmingham, Alabama

Lead community organization: Prosper Birmingham

MBE Entrepreneurship & Supplier Diversity

Our ambition:

Increase the volume and value of Black-owned businesses – through corporate MBE spend and MBE startups & scaling

1. Fund startups and give access to investor network – $70M: grow the Prosper Health Tech Fund – powered by Gener8tor – and offer venture capital technical assistance to scale 50+ startups from <$1M to $5M+ in annual revenue; near-term priority is to secure $4M in venture investment by end of May 2022

2. Fund technical assistance – $25M: fund Prosper Birmingham, Magic City Match, and Birmingham Business Alliance to establish/expand business advisory programs, renovate and subsidize retail/office space for MBEs and scale coaches & support services (e.g., digital footprint, B2C platforms, accounting & bookkeeping, recruitment, etc.) to help 100+ MBEs scale from <$1M to $5M+ in annual revenue

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): 3x increase in annual MBE revenue & 8K+ new jobs, boosting Black community’s net worth by ~$2B+

Access to Capital (CDFI/MDI)

Our ambition:

Modernize CDFI/MDI systems and tech as well as recruit and upskill talent to increase CDFI/MDI capacity and ability to inject more capital into Black communities

3. Fund modernization & capacity-building and provide in-kind subject matter experts – $30M: help 4-5 CDFIs/MDIs* over 5 years modernize their core systems, hire and train staff, expand marketing and standup SWAT team of experts to conduct needs diagnostic, implement tech solution & provide technical assistance

  • Systems and technology modernization – $10M-15M: Add/upgrade core banking systems, hardware and productivity tools, train frontline workforce on new systems & technology and hire engineering specialists to support customization and news systems rollout – over 5 years
  • Talent and workforce – $10M: hire and train additional frontline lending staff and invest in recruiting, training, compensation & benefits and retention to increase in-house expertise and loan capacity – over 5 years
  • Other capacity-building and outreach – $8M: hire additional staff to increase custom borrower and technical assistance (e.g., credit building, MBE financing options, etc.) and increase community outreach to drive regional awareness and new pipeline projects – over 5 years

* In partnership with National Bankers Association and Appalachian Community Capital; CDFIs/MDIs being considered include: First Bancshares, Commonwealth National Bank, TruFund, Sabre Finance, Bronze Valley, etc.

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): ~$330M in additional loans per year to support ~30K MBEs

Education/HBCU & Workforce Development

Our ambition:

Lower financial burden for Black students, increase number of Black college graduates, increase Black workforce and executive representation and their access to high-paying jobs

4. Fund scholarships and hire coaches – ~$35M: scale Birmingham Promise fund to financially support 200-250 students per year over 4 years to increase college retention and graduation rates

5. Fund endowment – $2M: support 50 University of Alabama at Birmingham college students per year with housing to reduce their financial burden and increase college retention and graduation rates

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): 6.5K+ additional college graduates & 35K workers with high-paying wages to drive ~$1.2B in economic growth

Digital Access

Our ambition:

Increase accessibility, affordability and adoption of high-speed Internet

6. Raise community awareness & adoption of Emergency Broadband Benefit: increase door-to-door and community outreach in low-income neighborhoods to get households onto EBB to help connect ~35K unconnected households

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): 48K households get connected to high-speed internet to unlock ~$700M in economic potential for Jefferson County

Birmingham, Alabama

Lead community organization: Prosper Birmingham

MBE Entrepreneurship & Supplier Diversity

Our ambition:

Increase the volume and value of Black-owned businesses – through corporate MBE spend and MBE startups & scaling

1. Fund startups and give access to investor network – $70M: grow the Prosper Health Tech Fund – powered by Gener8tor – and offer venture capital technical assistance to scale 50+ startups from <$1M to $5M+ in annual revenue; near-term priority is to secure $4M in venture investment by end of May 2022

2. Fund technical assistance – $25M: fund Prosper Birmingham, Magic City Match, and Birmingham Business Alliance to establish/expand business advisory programs, renovate and subsidize retail/office space for MBEs and scale coaches & support services (e.g., digital footprint, B2C platforms, accounting & bookkeeping, recruitment, etc.) to help 100+ MBEs scale from <$1M to $5M+ in annual revenue

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): 3x increase in annual MBE revenue & 8K+ new jobs, boosting Black community’s net worth by ~$2B+

Access to Capital (CDFI/MDI)

Our ambition:

Modernize CDFI/MDI systems and tech as well as recruit and upskill talent to increase CDFI/MDI capacity and ability to inject more capital into Black communities

3. Fund modernization & capacity-building and provide in-kind subject matter experts – $30M: help 4-5 CDFIs/MDIs* over 5 years modernize their core systems, hire and train staff, expand marketing and standup SWAT team of experts to conduct needs diagnostic, implement tech solution & provide technical assistance

Systems and technology modernization – $10M-15M: Add/upgrade core banking systems, hardware and productivity tools, train frontline workforce on new systems & technology and hire engineering specialists to support customization and news systems rollout – over 5 years

Talent and workforce – $10M: hire and train additional frontline lending staff and invest in recruiting, training, compensation & benefits and retention to increase in-house expertise and loan capacity – over 5 years

Other capacity-building and outreach – $8M: hire additional staff to increase custom borrower and technical assistance (e.g., credit building, MBE financing options, etc.) and increase community outreach to drive regional awareness and new pipeline projects – over 5 years

* In partnership with National Bankers Association and Appalachian Community Capital; CDFIs/MDIs being considered include: First Bancshares, Commonwealth National Bank, TruFund, Sabre Finance, Bronze Valley, etc.

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): ~$330M in additional loans per year to support ~30K MBEs

Education/HBCU & Workforce Development

Our ambition:

Lower financial burden for Black students, increase number of Black college graduates, increase Black workforce and executive representation and their access to high-paying jobs

4. Fund scholarships and hire coaches – ~$35M: scale Birmingham Promise fund to financially support 200-250 students per year over 4 years to increase college retention and graduation rates

5. Fund endowment – $2M: support 50 University of Alabama at Birmingham college students per year with housing to reduce their financial burden and increase college retention and graduation rates

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): 6.5K+ additional college graduates & 35K workers with high-paying wages to drive ~$1.2B in economic growth

Digital Access

Our ambition:

Increase accessibility, affordability and adoption of high-speed Internet

6. Raise community awareness & adoption of Emergency Broadband Benefit: increase door-to-door and community outreach in low-income neighborhoods to get households onto EBB to help connect ~35K unconnected households

Estimated impact (of all initiatives): 48K households get connected to high-speed internet to unlock ~$700M in economic potential for Jefferson County