By Marcella McCarthy
SoftBank Group International announced this week that as part of its AI Academy, the company is supporting a new educational program designed to upskill and prepare job-seekers from underserved communities for data science careers. This news comes the same week as the Knight Foundation announcement that Knight will be investing $15.3 million into Florida International University, the University of Miami and Baptist Health, signaling an interest by major players to solidify Miami as a source of tech talent.
“We don’t have a talent gap, we have a skills gap in Miami and cities in Latin America,” said Miami-based Laura Gaviria Halaby, Head of Partnerships and Strategic Initiatives at SoftBank Group International (pictured above).
The free 13-week course begins on April 17, 2021 and will be a virtual live class taught on Saturdays by Harvard professor Natesh Pillai. The deadline to apply is March 7th. The program is open to women, Latinx, people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ+. For those who don’t have a tech background, don’t sweat it: there’s an optional 3-week Python course also included before the data science program starts.
About 1,000 people will be accepted into the first cohort, but SoftBank’s mission is to train about 10,000 under-represented people over the next three years. The team is adamant about focusing on diversity, and Halaby told me that they are looking to meet the following quotas with the first cohort: 60% black, 30% Hispanic, 60% women,15% LGBTQ+ and 12% from LatAm. Obviously, these numbers don’t add up to 100%, but that’s because there will be candidates who fit more than one criteria. The program is open to working professionals and students alike.
While the program is virtual, it is only open to people based in the U.S. and LatAm.
“Candidates who should consider applying include employees of SoftBank-affiliated portfolio companies in the region as well as software engineers, technical product managers, technical marketers, and anyone with a STEM background who is interested in learning data analysis,” SoftBank said in a statement.
The DS4A Empowerment course (Data Science 4 All) - as the program is called - is being offered through a joint partnership between SoftBank, the City of Miami and Correlation One, a tech company that offers data science competitions, rigorous data skills assessments, and data science education.
"As Miami grows as a tech hub, it is important that we empower local entrepreneurs and the public sector to leverage the power of AI. We are proud to support the building of a diverse data-fluent community in Miami through our partnership with Correlation One and SoftBank,” said Miami Mayor Francis Suarez in a statement.
The IDB Lab (the Inter-American Development Bank) will join SoftBank by providing over 10 full-ride Fellowships to underrepresented candidates in LatAm while the Miami-Dade Beacon Council will provide four full-ride fellowships for underrepresented candidates based in Miami-Dade. In addition, The City of Miami will join as an impact partner by providing 20 fellowships to Miami talent and five fellowships to public sector workers.
The course is very hands-on, said Halaby, and participants in the program will work on case studies and projects, including projects submitted by SoftBank portfolio companies. Some of these case studies are expected to have measurable impact on the operational performance of participating companies.
“We have more than 20 companies within our portfolio that will be part of the program, so a lot of the candidates will have the opportunity to work with some of our partners afterward,” added Halaby.
SoftBank is playing the long game by investing in people who may create SoftBank portfolio companies down the road. This is Softbank’s second investment in the region this year. In January, the group announced a $100 million initiative to invest in Miami-based startups or companies that are moving here.
“There’s an ecosystem play for us as well because we think that every company in the future needs to be able to leverage data, and then hopefully some of those companies can be SoftBank portfolio companies in the future,” Halaby said.
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