Microsoft’s TechSpark Project to Expand Tech in Mississippi | Wyoming News

By ROSS REILY, The Clarion Ledger

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Long Beach native and Jackson resident JJ ​​Townsend will spearhead a new effort in Mississippi by Microsoft called TechSpark.

The program is part of an effort to expand technology education and business development in areas like Mississippi that have short on such opportunities.

TechSpark was established in October 2017 when Microsoft chose six regions of the US where it would invest staff, money and resources to help train today’s workers and prepare tomorrow’s leaders.

“Our president, five years ago, saw a need that we could do around computer science education, broadband and workforce development in some of our more rural, middle America spaces,” Townsend said. “Since that time we have expanded and had a lot of success and a lot of great things happen. Expanding to the Jackson area is truly a celebration of our 5-year anniversary. So, we get to look at where we go from here. “

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The ultimate goal is to turn Mississippi into Silicon Valley, rather than make sure the region meets its long-term need for a technologically efficient workforce.

TechSpark does this by developing programs for residents at every stage of their education and career, Townsend said. Younger generations may start learning how to program grid coordinates in elementary school, take a computer science course in high school and then complete certificate programs at a local college or university.

A person who is already working may find there is free training available that will help them get a better-paying job.

“We’re excited Microsoft chose Jackson to launch a new TechSpark initiative,” said Janet Parker, director of business development and marketing for Innovate Mississippi in an email response. “It’s a cool program because it’s not a cookie cutter. They recognize that every community has their own unique challenges.

“JJ Townsend has worked closely with community and economic developers to determine what needs are specific to our region, and has coalesced all the resources that already exist to help us work better together,” she said. “Then, Microsoft is fueling all the resources that they can offer to help us accelerate growth, economic opportunity and create new jobs for Mississippians. Ultimately, we hope this leads to attracting people to live and work in Mississippi, leading to brain drain instead of brain drain. ”

Townsend is a Teach for America alum who has classroom experience and a knowledge of business and nonprofits, such as when he launched the Technology, Education and Literacy program in Jackson to support high school building computer science education access. Prior to that, he founded Citizenventures, a startup that helps new tech become more efficient.

“We’re going to take a lot of work that has happened in these other regions and see where we want to apply to Mississippi,” said Townsend, who graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in business and a master’s degree in education leadership. General Chat Chat Lounge “After college, I really saw there was more I could do to introduce myself to computer science. I think that ‘s where a lot of people are.

“At that time, I really saw that need and then I saw the governor signing the law making computer science required in public schools by 2025. We’ve done a lot of work around computer science lately that’s exciting.”

Kate Behncken, Vice President and Leader of Microsoft Philanthropies said TechSpark has seen progress and helped significant projects come to life in Central Washington; Southern Virginia; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Fargo, North Dakota; Northeastern Wisconsin; and the cross-border region of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

“We are excited to learn more about Mississippi accelerating digital equity and supporting inclusive economic opportunities across the region and partner with new and existing organizations,” Behncken said. “And we’ll focus on digital skills training and connections to jobs, computer science education broadband connectivity and digital transformation of the nonprofit and startup ecosystem.”

At the same time, Mississippi employers are looking to hire more people with strong digital skills as a potential driver of economic recovery and growth. Recent analysis from the Mississippi Economic Council identified the lack of qualified workers as the no. 1 issue impacting the business climate in the state.

“We see these challenges across the US, but we’re convinced that launching a one-size-fits-all solution without regional input is a wrong response,” Behncken said. “That’s why we’re fostering tailored solutions that emphasize and build on the unique strengths of each community.”

As an initial step, TechSpark has announced support for four programs:

Jackson State University’s Cybersecurity Readiness Program that will help build workforce development opportunities for JSU students. The program will recruit and train at least 100 students and expose students to internship opportunities that will provide them with practical real-world cybersecurity experience.

gener8tor Skills Accelerator Mississippi: Earlier this month, startup accelerator gener8tor launched a five-week digital and workforce skills training program in collaboration with Innovate Mississippi. This short-term pilot program for unemployed people includes one-on-one career coaching, technical and workplace skills training, and access to local hiring partners with up to 80% of students’ goals in new or better roles within six months of graduation.

Innovate Mississippi’s CoBuilders Accelerator, which features a 12-week intensive and structured program designed to accelerate growth of qualifying startup companies. Twenty-one founders of home-grown startups are currently undergoing rigorous training on how to transform their vision into reality – and secure funding from investors. More than 300 startups applied to this statewide accelerator program, which culminates in a cohort-wide “pitch day” that takes place at the end of July.

Jackson Tech District Makerspace: Bean Path, an incubator and technology consulting nonprofit, is helping build the first operational building in Jackson’s emerging Tech District: a makerspace building that will serve as a hub for innovation and host students for STEM programs and Inventors this summer.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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