Hip-hop exec teams with Florida Memorial to cultivate next wave of Black tech stars — Andscape
When Slip-N-Slide Records founder Ted Lucas decided to start investing in the tech industry, he quickly realized Black people were being left out of the high-paying jobs and startup funding.
The Miami rap pioneer, who is responsible for discovering multiplatinum artists such as Rick Ross, Trina and Trick Daddy, decided he needed to take the same energy he put into finding top music acts and use it to foster the next Black tech superstars. In 2021, Lucas founded TechNolij, a nonprofit organization focused on closing the racial wealth gap through technology education.
“I saw what was happening here in South Florida, and I felt like if I didn’t step in and make sure that people that look like me and people from underserved communities didn’t get involved in tech, then we would be seriously at a disadvantage,” Lucas said.
To ensure that Black students aren’t left out in the tech boom, Lucas has partnered with Florida Memorial University, South Florida’s only historically Black university, to house the TechNolij Innovation Center, which opened on campus in January. The partnership between TechNolij and FMU will allow students at the HBCU to enroll in tech-focused boot camps, attend free panel discussions with tech leaders and receive resources, stipends for certification, and job placement. As part of the initiative, students also are invited to Tech Tuesdays, a series of off-campus networking events that was launched earlier this month.
The center, which Florida Memorial has dedicated two staff members to manage, is also open to community members, offering talks from local entrepreneurs and nationally known technologists, philanthropic events and educational workshops. Lucas declined to say how much he contributed to establish the center.
Students have responded positively to the program, said senior Tajay Russell, who is studying to become a cybersecurity analyst. The Department of Computer Science and Technology, part of Florida Memorial’s School of Arts and Sciences, offers bachelor’s degrees in cybersecurity, computer science and information systems and currently has 73 students enrolled for the spring semester, according to the university.
“A lot of students want to do tech but don’t have the safe space, don’t know where to go and don’t know where to network,” Russell said. “But I’ve been explaining to them that it’s right here at Florida Memorial. They just have to check for it.”
Lucas said university president Jaffus Hardrick, was proactive in getting the TechNolij Innovation Center open.
“There is nowhere else in Miami that represents us or looks like us. When you hear historically Black college, when you hear HBCU, you know what that means,” Lucas said. “I want to thank Dr. Hardrick for being my partner to do this at Florida Memorial. It’s important that students who attend Florida Memorial and just people in general at historically Black colleges get more involved in tech.”
People in the Black community, especially in Miami, don’t know about all the opportunities in tech and its earning potential, Lucas said.
“The last thing I want is for what’s happening in San Francisco to happen here in Miami,” said Lucas, referring to the income disparity of the West Coast tech hub.
In 2020, after a commenter on Twitter suggested turning Miami into the next Silicon Valley, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez replied, “How can I help?” That response sparked the momentum Suarez needed to lure major tech companies and remote tech workers to Miami. However, Lucas believes the city’s Black residents will be left out of this tech boom if not recruited.
According to research by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., Black workers are underrepresented among software developers and overrepresented in roles that are likely to be phased out by automation in coming years. The firm also reported that the percentage of women in computing roles (currently 26%) has declined over the past 25 years, and the situation is worse for for Latinas, Black women and Native American women, who comprise just 4% of technical roles in tech companies.
Lucas hopes that the center at Florida Memorial will help change those disparities and encourage prospective students locally and abroad to attend the school to learn those skills.
“You got companies moving in [to Miami] that weren’t connecting with local people. It was my job to make a space for that,” said Lucas.
Russell, a Jamaica native who is attending Florida Memorial on a sports and academic scholarship, credits Lucas with providing much-needed insight into Miami’s tech ecosystem.
“I’m looking to break into tech and I didn’t know the way of where to go or who to connect with and when I met Ted and he started to explain what technology is about, I was like, ‘Hey, this is the perfect thing for me. This is what I want,’” Russell said. “TechNolij gives you an opportunity where you can meet people and network with people about the field you want.”
He will be a member of the inaugural cohort for the TechNolij Apprenticeship Program, a boot camp designed to help students and others in the Miami community gain entry-level positions in the tech industry. Russell has become somewhat of a de facto ambassador for the apprenticeship, recruiting eight classmates to join him. The initiative begins in May and has 59 participants ready to get started.
Lucas said he knew once students learned what the center offered they would share the information with others.
“This is only going to get better and better because when I’m able to have a student in class tell another student how much money they are making after 60 days or 90 days in our program, that’s going to make a big impact on the university and a big impact in our community,” Lucas said.