A Nonprofit Aims to “Positively Disrupt” the Western Mass. Tech Sector — and it’s Working

You probably haven’t heard of Tech Foundry in Springfield.  The tiny nonprofit is only eight years old, and its new-ish CEO, Tricia Canavan, is one of just four full-time staffers.

But the dynamic organization is delivering for Western Massachusetts. It’s producing skilled information technology (IT) workers needed by local businesses, while elevating underserved community members toward sustainable careers in IT. All in all, it’s an economic win-win for the region.

Tech Foundry’s newest graduates (June 2022). [Photo courtesy of Tech Foundry]

Canavan credits the entrepreneurial savvy of Delcie Bean IV, founder and CEO of Paragus Strategic IT in Hadley, for the nonprofit’s start-up. According to Canavan, Bean saw a gap in the talent pipeline for people qualified to do work for businesses like his. And he recognized the lack of diversity in the IT workforce.

So, Bean connected community partners — individuals, businesses and organizations —to create a workforce development program that was ‘positively disruptive,’ Canavan said. “He wanted to harness the energy of the tech sector and do things that were ‘cool,’ collaborative and cutting edge.”

Thanks to their efforts, Tech Foundry launched in 2014, offering training opportunities in IT fundamentals.  Students learn Office365, customer service, hardware fundamentals, Linux and Windows operating systems, system administration, and more. Coaches and mentors provide additional guidance and support.

Anyone can apply for the 18-week program, which includes a four-week internship (the next cohort starts in August 2022).  Many students enrolled are women, people of color, LGBTQA+, or from non-traditional educational backgrounds.

Classes, as well as computer hardware and software, are free.

“The Community Foundation’s consistent support has been critical to our ability to offer the program for free,” Canavan said. Most recently, the Community Foundation awarded Tech Foundry a Flexible Funding grant, which is “designed to elevate nonprofits addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion through its policies, procedures, and programming.”

For many Tech Foundry participants, the experience is life-changing.  Before entering the program, students’ annual income averages less than $25,000.  At the two-year mark post-graduation, most earn between $50, 000 and $60,000 annually.  

One student, a mother of four, was living in a supportive shelter and on the verge of homelessness. Now, she’s a Tech Foundry graduate working in the field and pursuing more advanced technical training in community college.

“Our completion rate is 80% despite the challenging nature of the program and the fact that most people who come to us don’t have a technology background. It’s empowering for our students. As we recruit them, we ask, ‘Can you navigate the internet? Do you play computer games?’ If people have that kind of basic knowledge, they can do this.”

To date, Tech Foundry has trained more than 375 Western Massachusetts residents for tech career success. And Canavan is just as proud of the sense of community the program creates.  “We are always here for our students,” she said. “They keep in touch and we really encourage that.  It’s amazing what they do with grit, resilience and hard work, and they end up feeling so proud of themselves and their classmates for what they are able to accomplish. It’s really heartwarming.”