Color Coded Labs is Developing Tech Talent in Underserved Communities


The Columbus startup wants to boost minorities and underrepresented populations to provide high quality workers

For a variety of reasons, talent in the tech world has struggled to keep up with the demand for great employees for years. Startups and tech companies are always looking for qualified and capable workers, but often have a difficult time finding them. With so many tech jobs available, why are there so many communities who struggle with employment? That’s the question Columbus’s Color Coded Labs seeks to answer.

“Color Coded Labs is a technology skills bootcamp that targets black and brown, minority, historically underrepresented and marginalized communities,” said CEO Doug McCollough. “We reach working adults and help them gain the skills to enter a very lucrative market through new roles and career pathways. By doing so, we help this industry gain access to the talent that’s been missing for a long time. We’re a 19-week program teaching full-stack software development using the JavaScript language.”

McCollough was the co-founder of Black Tech Columbus, which created a platform to connect Black tech professionals in central Ohio. His co-founders Kevin Lloyd and Brandon and Bruce Jones all ran similar minority-focused programs, meaning the group started with a baseline of trust from the community and proven ability to bring people together. McCollough is also the chief information officer for the City of Dublin, where he sees firsthand the need for more tech talent development. There are lots of places training people, he said, but not many with the target audience of Color Coded Labs.

“The education technology industry is hot right now,” he said. “There was a time when nobody was operating in this space and, even now, very few people are targeting minority populations and people of color to get them into this space. We wanted to build a program that was doing what other similar businesses were doing — but they weren’t doing it in Columbus on Mount Vernon Avenue or in Linden, communities that are historically marginalized.”

McCollough said the median household incomes of many of the areas Color Coded Labs targets is around $40,000 or less. That’s fine for one person, but if that household has children or more than one person living there, it’s considered at the poverty level. McCollough and his co-founders believe they can close that gap through programs like Color Coded Labs, which fills the spaces between community colleges and other education programs that aren’t reaching those neighborhoods. And in the process, they can help develop much-needed workers for the tech industry.

“The unemployment rate in communities like this is far higher than in other communities; meanwhile, in the tech industry, the unemployment rate is almost nonexistent,” he said. “There’s an enormous demand for jobs. So you have an extraordinarily overheated tech job market where people are desperate to find talent. On the other hand, across the street, you have whole communities with thousands of gritty, dedicated, intelligent and creative people who have not been given the opportunities and the skills that allow them to cross the street and say, ‘I’m here.’ That’s what motivates us.”

Perhaps the best news for Color Coded Labs is that it’s not just a worthwhile cause. The company is already generating funds from its first cohort, which costs $13,500 for the entire program. But that cost can be mitigated by companies who are already offering scholarships and grants to help invest in a great new way to find talent. McCollough said the team has already heard overwhelmingly positive reviews from several organizations who want to get on board.

“We’ve hit paydirt,” he said. “In testing our message with companies that hire technology talent, we’ve received an enormous amount of enthusiastic support and eager interest in what we’re doing. There has even been interest in expanding and extending our curriculum. We’re focused on JavaScript, but there’s demand for UI/UX development, product development, cybersecurity and more. People are asking, ‘When are you going to do this and how can I support it?’ large companies, small companies, nonprofits, the State of Ohio, local governments have all said, ‘This is important and we think your model will work.’”

With their first cohort underway — a group of six that includes two women of color, a real point of pride for McCollough — the team has its sights set even higher. Color Coded Labs doesn’t just want to be a Columbus resource, they want to show that their idea is scalable across the country. But for a starting point, they couldn’t pick a better city than Columbus.

“Being on the corner of Mount Vernon Avenue in a historic neighborhood in Columbus is a really big deal,” said McCollough. “All of us are committed to this neighborhood and communities like it. We’re planting a flag to let residents and members of the community know that this belongs to them. They’re a part of Columbus and they’re a part of this city becoming a hot tech space. There’s so much opportunity here, it’s crazy. We have a robust startup community, a robust group of large companies and a robust small business community and we have funding through venture capital, grants and loans. We have one of the best universities in the world and a dozen other great universities around it. We have it all: the tech, the money and the people.”

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