When Houston native and engineer Jesse Martinez joined his first startup in 1997, he felt like a little kid in a tech candy store in the middle of Silicon Valley. 

Internet Systems Inc., where he landed a job, had just raised a round of venture capital from Sequoia Capital; clients included early Internet giants like Yahoo and Netscape. The startup grew from 50 employees to several thousand in less than a year, after getting acquired by a public company.

But after several years in corporate America, Martinez wanted to network with other Latino tech-minded entrepreneurs like him. He had seen successful networking organizations in other ethnic groups, such as TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs), but while frequently attending industry conferences, he noticed he could count the number of Latinos in tech on one hand.

So, in mid 2011, Jesse founded the Latino Startup Alliance, which launched early this year.

LSA’s stated mission is “to encourage inspiration and cultivation of Latino led technology startup ventures by providing a strong support network of fellow entrepreneurs, investors, innovators and mentors.” The group today boasts 246 innovators.

LSA has held Meetup events with such recognized tech leaders as Steve Blank, James Key Lim, Janice Fraser and Vivek Wadhwa in Silicon Valley. They have connected with Latino tech entrepreneurs in Chicago, New York, Miami, Mexico and Latin America. Importantly, they have connected directly with accelerators such as the NewME Accelerator Team, whose minority tech entrepreneurs were featured in CNN’s Black in America series last year. LSA is focused on building a pipeline of Latino entrepreneurs to these accelerators and other organizations.

 

Through the growing membership of LSA, we’ll be able to present guest speakers that look like the students, all working on tech startups.

- Jesse Martínez, Engineer

Martinez and his brother have collaborated with the proactive and visionary MHS staff to create something extremely valuable to this community. They launched and completed a 13-week pilot program on tech entrepreneurship as an after-school program – Spark America. Twenty-two students attended the first week and gained valuable insights into what tech entrepreneurship looks like.   

How successful was the pilot?

“We have been asked to offer a Spark America curriculum as an elective one-year class in the fall of 2012 for credit,” Jesse shared excitedly.

The Martinez brothers will now be in front of the MHS students three times per week for 7th period instruction.  They’re moving fast as entrepreneurs do. Their first visit to MHS for Career Day was only ten months ago; already they’ve connected the diverse student community of San Francisco’s Mission District to tech entrepreneurs. Most importantly, people from nearby communities are asking when the Spark America program can be extended to their schools.

“One more step forward in bringing tech entrepreneurship to under-represented schools and communities,” says Jesse. “Through the growing membership of LSA, we’ll be able to present guest speakers that look like the students, all working on tech startups.” We have so many amazing speakers reaching out – “Where do we sign up?” In addition, tech companies are also getting involved, including Practice Fusion, Mozilla and Kiva.

As Martinez was organizing his ideas last November, we both read this Forbes article titled, “Are Hispanics America's Next Great STEM Innovators? “  This is a terrific article that addresses the demographic reality and trends to make the case that the Latino community will, once again, step up to do the work America needs done to thrive as a nation. But this time, it will be different because this work will also include the professional careers based in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.)

James Marshall Crotty writes: “As Americans seem to be eschewing key white-collar STEM jobs too, now comes the next and most important chapter of the Hispanic immigration experience in America: how to move en masse from low-paying but steady work as America’s default blue collar labor force to the leaders of the STEM education revolution that must happen if this nation is to maintain its top-tier economic status.”

This is the recipe: start with motivated educators and administrators willing to work to seek out new role models for their students. Add community members with business skills, technology skills and initiative, willing to give a little bit of their time. Add students eager to learn 21st century tech skills the market is hungering for globally. The result is a game-changing high school program for Latino students, and all their peers, who all benefit from positive role modeling in their classrooms. No excuses, no whining about lack of resources, just finding a way to get it done because all involved understand that our nation’s economic future is at stake.

Jesse and Ed Martinez, the members of LSA, the staff at Mission High have taken those first steps. In reality, with the right players coming together, it only took six months to meet, get the right partners/curriculum in place, try it, evaluate it and implement it.

What can you do? Does your child’s school staff truly understand what’s at stake if the status quo isn’t rocked? Does your business community get this? If not, get this article in front of your middle school and high school principal immediately. Share this one website that tells the story of the Spark America pilot at MHS. Tech entrepreneurs are everywhere and they are beginning to unite; let’s get them in front of our young people ASAP. Jesse just returned from a trip to Washington D.C., sponsored by U.S. Government CTO Todd Park and tech investor Mitch Kapor. He met other passionate founders of other programs across the U.S.; all share the vision of tech inclusion. Talk has begun on how to scale these programs and how to work together collaboratively.

The Martinez brothers are compiling a list of middle schools and high schools that are interested in emulating the program they’ve put in place. If you’re a parent or teacher interested in learning how to create a program like this at your school, connect directly with Jesse at Jesse@sparkamerica.us

Let’s follow the LSA lead to make it happen locally. Let’s keep taking those jobs most Americans won’t do, this time, with engineering degrees, science degrees, business degrees and tech entrepreneurship skills in hand.  “Nada es imposible.”

Graciela Tiscareño-Sato is the Chief Creative Officer and Author of "Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them." Go to: www.latinnovating.com.

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