Stephanie Fitzgerald, Pierre Salumu, Justin Lott, Christy La Guardia, and Wendy Beck after their collaboration on the Varcity Network app.
PORTLAND, OR - A group of Alchemy Code Lab students (now alumni) who attended the third annual PitchBlack contest were inspired to collaborate with local entrepreneur Justin Lott after hearing him pitch his idea for Varcity Network, a social network designed to connect students athletes with peers, mentors, and career opportunities.
Lott has been building this network for the past five years but, at the time of PitchBlack, did not have a working prototype to display during his pitch. The students partnered with Lott to create a functioning app for Varcity Network, which they presented as their final project for their training at Alchemy Code Lab -- and which Lott is now using to garner funding for his start-up from international and domestic investors.
Alchemy Code Lab actively aims to leverage its position as the most advanced software development training program in Portland to achieve greater diversity and more inclusivity in the city's tech community. The students who track through the program carry this commitment to changing lives into the companies that hire them -- to to start-ups of their own.
"[Alchemy Code Lab] sets the model for how to get involved in the community. You get out there, you start meeting people, get involved, do something. They help us do that extra step of integrating into the tech community," said Christy La Guardia, the Alchemy Code Lab alum who received tickets to PitchBlack from the school and initiated the collaboration with Lott.
After learning of the severe limitations black entrepreneurs face -- black-owned businesses in Portland haven't gotten more than 7 small business loans in a calendar year since 2009 -- La Guardia saw an opportunity to connect her skills as a developer with Lott's need for a prototype of Varcity Network that would help him build capital as a start-up. She engaged Wendy Beck, Stephanie Fitzgerald, and Pierre Salumu -- fellow students in her cohort at Alchemy Code Lab -- to develop the app under an extremely tight deadline.
The students worked rapidly to build Lott's app in time to present it for their final project at Alchemy, and then continued to work with Lott for several more weeks to refine the prototype. As a result of their collaboration, Varcity Network was selected to participate in the ALPHA PITCH competition and summit conference for early stage start-ups.
"I would love to see more start-up or entrepreneur work done by students," said La Guardia after the group had completed and presented the project to local tech companies and their peers at Alchemy. "It's beneficial for both sides... but it also gives students more training in what it will be like working with a client. And for the entrepreneur, like in Justin's experience, what it [will be] like working with developers. Because if you're a tech start-up, you're going to have to get used to that."
Alchemy strives to provide opportunities that benefit students from a variety of backgrounds while also helping local tech companies hire the talent they need. "To see the students themselves take that ethic and carry it out into the community and use their skills to help entrepreneurs like Justin take the next step is really exciting," said the school's CEO and Principal Instructor, Marty Nelson. "That's a real demonstration of the power of community and technology."