When it comes to technological innovation, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. But within the 128-year-old organization there exists a team that is dedicated to fostering the next generation of tech superstars years before they have to worry about seed rounds or hiring pushes.
Founded in 2014, Bixel Exchange operates as a nonprofit startup within the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, focusing on rapidly evolving segments of the tech ecosystem. It offers a number of programs, including the Tech Ed Partnerships program, which works with community colleges and high schools to connect more than 4,000 students with some of the LA tech community’s most innovative startups.
“Our role is being a translator from business to education and back, so we're really in an intermediary role,” said Sergio Rosas, Director at Tech Ed Partnerships. “Our primary function is to partner with companies in the tech community and find ways that they can help students in our community discover potential careers in technology.”
Despite the rapid growth of information and communications technology companies, it is estimated that by the year 2025, California will have a skills gap of 2.5 million people.
In communities all over Southern California there simply aren’t enough resources to educate students in fields related to tech, and thousands of students each year are simply unaware of the wealth of potential careers that could be available to them. That’s something that the Tech Ed Partnerships program wants to fix. By partnering with some of Silicon Beach’s biggest tech companies, they are able to match companies like Snapchat and Riot Games with students from all over Los Angeles County.
“If you're from an area that's underserved, you could research being a doctor or a lawyer, but you don't really think about being a video game designer or a full-stack developer, because you don't know anyone in your community that does that type of work,” said Events & Strategic Partnerships Manager Dakota Ortiz. “Some students take courses at school, where they're kind of getting interested, but going to an office and actually seeing people do the job and seeing that a lot of the people doing these jobs aren't that much older is really cool.”
"The businesses have a stake in growing talent in LA, because their businesses are here, and they don't want students to leave as soon as they finish college,” said Ortiz. “If they can teach these kids the skills they're looking to hire for at an early age, then you have your workforce built in. There are all kinds of incentives for businesses to hire local.”
As Bixel Exchange continues to grow, so too does the Tech Ed Partnerships program. As more companies volunteer their time and expertise, the challenge becomes matching tech companies with the students in classes studying design, IT and computer sciences all over LA County.
“The response from the tech community has been wonderful,” said Rosas. “It's been humbling. There is so much passion and a huge sense of wanting to give back and wanting to give students the opportunity to learn and to know it's possible to develop a career in tech in the LA area.”
To date, nearly 1,400 students have taken part in the program's activities, something that Rosas and Ortiz have no trouble finding inspiration in.
“Personally it's fulfilling because, as a first-generation student who grew up in a low-income household, I oftentimes see myself in the students we work with,” said Rosas. “We see them reimagine what a career could be, and that's what keeps me going. Being able to see and feel the energy of students and to work with industry partners that want the best for the community is really inspiring.”