Voto Latino, a nonprofit that empowers Latino Millennials to create positive change in their communities, in partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Google, and administered by HASTAC, launched the VL Innovators Challenge, a tech competition for Millennials between the ages of 18 and 34. The VL Innovators Challenge seeks to cultivate a pool of Latino tech talent and find innovative solutions to problems in the Latino community. The Challenge will award $500,000 in grants to the 10-15 best projects, and it is part of a year-long celebration commemorating Voto Latino’s 10-year anniversary.
“The VL Innovators Challenge is an investment in a rising generation of Latino Millennials who are more than just consumers of technology; they are creators and they are makers,” said María Teresa Kumar, President and CEO, Voto Latino. “Study after study shows that Latinos are highly entrepreneurial, yet our presence is missing in the corridors of Silicon Valley. Through the VL Innovators Challenge, we hope to not only provide funding for great ideas but also the access to make these ideas succeed.”
The VL Innovators Challenge is part of the Connected Learning movement, an educational approach that makes learning relevant to everyone, to real life and real work, and to the realities of the digital age.
“For nearly a decade, MacArthur has invested in innovations to reimagine a future in which all young people are able to engage in learning that is relevant to their lives and prepares them for success in school, the workplace, and their community,” said Connie Yowell, Director of Education at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “Our support for the VL Innovators Challenge is intended to build upon the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of Latino Millennials to develop tools and strategies to solve some of our country’s most pressing challenges.”
Millennials of all backgrounds are encouraged to submit their best ideas and enter the competition. No tech experience is required, as those who are awarded a grant will be provided with access to the expertise of Silicon Valley veterans like Google to help see their ideas to fruition.
“The VL Innovators Challenge presents an opportunity to find tech solutions to problems in the Latino community and to address the educational and economic disparities that contribute to the low numbers of Latinos in tech," said Eliana Murillo, Head of Multicultural Marketing, Google. Google will host winners at its Mountain View Headquarters for a week of learning.
Today, Latinos make up a mere 7 percent of U.S. tech workers and studies suggest the gap to careers in Silicon Valley begins at an early age. Black and Latino students are four times less likely to take AP Math and Science exams than their White and Asian counterparts, and six times less likely to take the AP Computer Science exam. In 2013, Blacks and Latinos made up only 9 percent of computer science and engineering college graduates.
“Our country suffers from a severe wealth gap, and Latinos are getting left behind. Not enough Latino Millennials go after the high-paying tech jobs, where the average salary is $77,000 a year -- $40,000 more than what the average Latino makes today,” said Wilmer Valderrama, actor and Co-Chair of Voto Latino’s Artist Coalition. “The VL Innovators Challenge seeks to address this growing disparity head on.”
Each proposed project submitted for the tech competition must address a need or challenge in the Latino community and must include a new tech tool to solve that challenge. Applications may incorporate any technology — mobile apps, websites, computer apps and programs, social networking platforms, low-cost handheld devices, etc. — and must address any community issue, great or small. Applications for the VL Innovators Challenge must be submitted by September 10, 2014 at www.VLInnovators.com
. Proposed projects will be made available to the public through the competition’s website and via social media using #VLInnovators
The VL Innovators Challenge winners will be selected by a combination of audience participation, a panel of esteemed judges—comprised of 50 community, elected, and business leaders—and Voto Latino staff. The winners will be announced at Voto Latino’s 10-year anniversary gala in November.