Rupal Thanawala

Rupal Thanawala

Two decades back, my tech fraternity only appreciated innovations and entrepreneurs who proved to have measurable commercial outcomes. They must solve business problem that can generate new revenue streams, have growth potential, have a quick and positive return on investment, gain and maintain customer satisfaction, able to scale up, easy to integrate and implement etc. Well, not anymore. In the past few years, social entrepreneurship is taking center stage at Indiana's most prominent tech eventMIRA Awards, organized by TechPoint.  

Companies and products that solve community issues are recognized and rewarded, and many are not generating any revenue but supported by philanthropists and grants. All the awardees demonstrated commitment to community service and diversity and inclusion. A couple of them have very compelling stories that are truly inspiring.  

The Last Mile — The U.S. has one of the largest prison systems, making up 25%, although we are only 5% of the world’s population. There has been a 700% increase in the prison population since 1970, and $48 billion is spent annually on prisons. However, this is not the biggest issue. The challenge is for individuals to restart their life and careers when they are out of the prisons. On the other side, our tech sector is growing faster than we can meet workforce demand. Indiana adds 4,500 new tech jobs every year. The Last Mile has a solution for both the issues. They piloted the first program in Indiana Women's prison that has now expanded to men's prison and expanded the program in multiple facilities. The Last Mile creates classrooms inside prisons to teach doing courses in HTML, Javascript, PHP, web development, database administration and many more. The program offered a total of over 7,000 hours of instruction time throughout the year. Students created full-stack web applications during this time using web technologies including React, Node.js, MongoDB and MySQL. Their projects ranged from health care applications to eCommerce websites and were presented by students at various events. Talesa and Jennifer were part of the programs, and now they have successful tech careers. Jennifer said, "The Last Mile program gave me the initial tools again to feel valued at a time when I was at my lowest, and I want to pay it forward to others who are walking the same path with IDOC and The Last Mile program here in Indiana."  

Nextech — We have discussed a lot about the importance of computer science at grade level. Unfortunately, 40% of Indiana high schools did not offer computer science as late as the 2018-19 academic year due to a lack of training available to teachers. In 2019, Nextech facilitated 81 workshops, resulting in 10,326 hours of training for 1,114 K-12 teachers from 399 schools across Indiana. Around 40,400 students enrolled in classes taught by these teachers across the state.  

Nextech's Catapult program is a yearlong immersive experience that helps students aspiring for a career in technology to develop technical and workplace skills, authentic peer relationships, a passion for community service, and deep roots for a lifelong personal and professional connection to Indianapolis. In 2019, Nextech facilitated 4,757 hours of programming for 48 high school students. Hamilton Southeastern High School students created a mobile application to report student's attendance in case of active shooting whereby teachers could "check-in" students to a central database, allowing administrative personnel to find any potential concerns quickly.  

Are you a social entrepreneur or have a product that solves a community issue with the help of technology? You should apply for TechPoint MIRA Award in 2020. 

Rupal Thanawala is managing director at Trident Systems leading business and technology consulting practice, and tech editor for Indianapolis Recorder. Contact her at rupalt@indyrecorder.com. 

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