FutureFounders

As Seattle is poised to become a leader in emerging tech industries like artificial intelligence, virtual reality and blockchain, there is also opportunity to prepare youth and young adults from communities that have been marginalized from the innovation economy to not only participate but become future technology leaders.

FutureFounders is a program created by the City of Seattle's Office of Economic Development (OED), in partnership with local organizations, connecting youth and young adults with technology mentors and experts to learn new skills for a future career in technology.

Seattle has become a global epicenter for innovation. In 2017, over $533 million have been invested in Seattle area companies that use artificial intelligence in their business model, and there were over 1,000 job postings that included the terms "machine learning," "AI" or "artificial intelligence." From 2011 to 2015, over $1.5 billion was invested in local virtual reality companies, and there was a 2,375% increase in job postings in this field over the four-year time period.

However, Seattle's economic growth has not been equitable. The Seattle 2035 Growth and Equity Analysis Summary shows that neighborhoods like Southeast and Southwest Seattle have the lowest access to opportunity and the highest risk of displacement compared to other parts of the city. 

This gap in growth and equity calls for creative solutions that can leverage the innovative thought and resources found in Seattle to connect underserved communities to opportunity, break cycles of poverty and build generational wealth. As OED tracks trends in industry sectors and workforce strategies, the need for more adaptive training and career pathways for communities with low access to opportunity have become a priority.

VR Fellowship

Future Founders Fellows. Left to right: Julie Le, Eduardo Rojas, Beverly Aarons, Jakari Brown, Hafsa Don

Future Founders 2018 Fellows. Left to right: Julie Le, Eduardo Rojas, Beverly Aarons, Jakari Brown, Hafsa Don

The FutureFounders VR Fellowship is a paid four-month training, networking and hands-on experience in virtual reality app development. The inaugural cohort was comprised mostly of South Seattle residents ages 18 to 24 that have a demonstrated interest in technology, and took place during the last quarter of 2018.

The guiding question during the fellowship was, "How might we help to converge emerging innovations in technology with emerging innovation in community development?" In addition to exploring the latest technology in spatial computing, the Fellows also investigated local innovation taking place in South Seattle, like the Rainier Beach Food Innovation District (RBFID). The concept of the RBFID clusters manufacturing, technology, and food sectors around the light rail station to provide access to career paths in living-wage jobs, strengthening the local economy through production rather than consumption.

In addition to frequenting spaces like Capitol One Cafe, Chronos HoloLab, the Union and the Collective in neighborhoods like South Lake Union and downtown, the Fellows also helped build out the first VR Lab in South Seattle, affectionately dubbed the "XR Kitchen." The lab is equipped with VR-ready computers, Oculus Rift's, Oculus Go's, and of course, a kitchen. Other activities included in the VR Fellowship:

  • Completed 8 weeks with Chronos Global Academy learning to design immersive worlds using the Unity engine
  • Completed 8 weeks with Floodgate Academy learning scripting for virtual reality using C#
  • Worked with SIXR to develop "XR Valley" for the Oculus Go, a game that empowers the Rainier Beach community to visualize and feel ownership of the Food Innovation District through an immersive VR experience
  • Interviewed local XR startup founders, community builders and experts for the forthcoming "FutureFounders Podcast"
  • Participated and volunteered in local events like the Seattle Design Festival, Seattle Startup Week, ChickTech High School Kickoff and VR Hackathons

Meet the Fellows

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Beverly Aarons

Beverly Aarons is a writer and game developer. She works across disciplines as a copywriter, journalist, novelist, playwright, screenwriter and short story writer. She began her writing journey at 14 years old when she worked as a youth reporter for the Chicago Defender, one of the oldest African American newspapers in the U.S. She's won several awards and grants for her work, including the Guy A. Hanks, Marvin H. Miller Screenwriting Award, Community 4Culture Fellowship and the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture smART Ventures grant. She explores futuristic worlds in fiction, but also enjoys discovering the stories of modern day unsung heroes. She's currently working on a series of nonfiction stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their local communities and the world. In August 2018, she produced a live-action game and event where community members worked together to envision an economic future they truly desired to leave future generations. She's currently learning how to create interactive experiences in XR. After solidifying her programming and XR skills, she hopes to continue developing her game Rent Hike, an exploration into life as a renter in Seattle, and to create new interactive experiences that inform and inspire.

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Jakari Brown

Jakari Brown grew up in the Rainier Valley neighborhood in Seattle, a city where some have access to the leading innovation hubs of the world and also a place where some people's access is limited to drugs and crime. Jakari believes that technology can help him access the blissful life that is available to others in his city, as opposed to the latter. He believes that his circumstances are one of his greatest gifts, because they have given him the confidence and resilience to continue seeking knowledge and opportunity, despite the trauma and hardship he has experienced. Although he might not always have control over his circumstances, he still feels that he has a responsibility to help shape his environment for the better. At the beginning of 2018, he began teaching himself web development, and had created almost ten websites before the end of the year! He is passionate about technology, because it allows him to be creative and produce concrete results. As a FutureFounders Virtual Reality Fellow, he hopes to create a more stable environment for himself and others. He is pursuing a career in software engineering and seeking other opportunities for growth and development. 

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Hafsa Don

Hafsa is a freshman at Seattle Central College who is working to get an associate degree in computer science. She was introduced to computer science during her junior year of high school when she developed a great passion for exploring all types of technology. In her junior year, she volunteered at ChickTech, where she built a robotic car. Immediately after she graduated high school, she came across an application for a VR fellowship that offered an opportunity to give back to her community, so she grabbed the chance. She is currently developing software for virtual reality. Hafsa is still trying to figure out what she wants to major in, but she believes exploring all types of technology will help her find her passion. Her role model is her mother, and her mission is to make her mother proud. Hafsa loves giving back to her community, because she grew up in a strong community. Growing up in refugee camps in Uganda, Hafsa learned the importance of community. She hopes to go back home one day and have a positive impact on her community and learn ways to make life easier for them using technology.

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Julie Le

Julie Le is a curious individual who is in the midst of figuring out her passions and career interests. After much exploration in different fields of studies, she has found a love for technology and decided to pursue this field, though it is against her parents' expectation of her pursuit of a career in the medical field. She received her Associates in Arts and Sciences from Tacoma Community College and recently received her certification in Database Analytics from Bellevue College. A natural problem solver, she is motivated by using data to make conclusions and solve issues from those conclusions. As part of the FutureFounders VR Fellowship, she has worked on developing an educational game in virtual reality. She hopes to someday find a career that integrates both analyzation of data and the programming aspects of technology. She plans on enrolling back in school to earn a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science. 

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Eduardo Rojas

Eduardo Rojas is a User Experience (UX) designer and Virtual Reality (VR) developer. He is passionate about creating value-centered solutions to promote health, wellbeing and happiness. He joined the FutureFounders VR Fellowship to pursue the opportunity to learn about an emerging technology that is poised to transform social interaction and the way we do business. Eduardo is currently an administrator for Rojas Plastering LLC, in addition to participating in the fellowship. Through the fellowship, Eduardo has had the opportunity to learn VR development, network with passionate creators and organize VR workshops for underrepresented youth. Currently, Eduardo is working with a team of five fellows to create a VR application based on a real-life community initiative called the Rainier Beach Food Innovation District. The purpose of the initiative is to the promote economic development of Rainier Beach by creating multi-function facilities for food production and distribution. The role of his team in the initiative is to promote community engagement by allowing community members to visualize their impact in their community. In the future, Eduardo hopes to help with expanding the VR Fellowship and mentor future cohorts. After the fellowship, Eduardo hopes to work as a UX and VR Designer and explore the ethics of immersive technologies.