Felecia Hatcher’s high school guidance counselor told her she would never make it in college. Her response? She taught herself to code, earned $130,000 in scholarships, and became one of the nation’s leading advocates for innovation and entrepreneurship among young people of color.
In 2012, Hatcher called on that experience in founding Code Fever, a Miami nonprofit dedicated to ridding black communities of innovation deserts by helping minority students between the ages of 13 and 21 learn to code, pitch business ideas, and create inclusive startup ecosystems.
Comcast NBCUniversal, in partnership with NationSwell, named Hatcher a 2017 Tech Impact AllStar, a title that recognizes entrepreneurs who are using technology to solve some of America’s greatest challenges. She was one of five AllStar innovators who are moving the needle forward in creative ways.
Hatcher is keenly aware of the opportunity divide her students face. Despite Miami’s status as an exploding tech hub, minority neighborhoods in nearby Broward County are barely seeing a flicker. “If you have an idea, oftentimes you have to leave your neighborhood in order to execute on that idea or get the right resources in order to make that happen,” Hatcher says. “And that’s a problem.”
Since its founding, Code Fever has introduced more than 3,000 youth and adults to coding and tech ecosystem resources and has held more than 100 tech events, including boot camps, hackathons, and an annual BlackTech Week conference.
Ultimately, Hatcher wants to rid communities of innovation deserts like the one in Broward County, where STEM education is lacking and support and resources are limited. STEM is one of the fastest-growing career fields, yet people of color are underrepresented by at least 16% to 18% in the tech labor force.
But Hatcher, who was honored at the White House for her entrepreneurial influence in 2011 and commitment to diversity in STEM fields in 2014, has more personal motivations as well.
“For me, it’s looking at my daughter and her generation,” she says. “I want to pave the way so it’s easier for her and every kid that looks like her, every kid that’s her age, and everyone in between.”
As a Tech Impact AllStar, Hatcher is gaining valuable news and social media exposure and generating excitement and funding for Code Fever. A video produced through the NationSwell/Comcast NBCUniversal partnership has earned more than 30,000 views. The publicity also helps raise the profile of BlackTech Week, founded by Hatcher and her husband, Derick, to help foster African American tech talent. To date, BlackTech Week has hosted more than 3,500 attendees, 200 speakers, and 4 pitch competitions.
With the support of Comcast NBCUniversal, Code Fever is doing more than just introducing technology to minority students. It’s also helping change the culture in their communities. “We have to introduce them to computer programming to change the narrative, which is that the black and brown community doesn’t exist in tech,” Hatcher says. “In fact, we are pioneers in tech and innovation.”