Black Female-Founded Tech Program Hopes for Funding

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Technology is the wave of the future, being taught to kids who may not always have the tools to create one.

“I wanted to target kids from those areas because what I’m trying to impact poverty. I am trying to make sure the young people growing up in poverty today can actually get out of poverty and be successful,” said Nancy Mwirotsi, the founder of Pursuing Innovation 515 in Des Moines.

PI 515 was created six years ago by Mwirotsi.  She said, “We’ve done robotics, we actually build drones.  Automation and artificial intelligence is key and we need to get high school students learning how to be ahead of the game.” 

In the past, the program has partnered with Facebook’s Altoona data center, AT&T, Dwolla and American Equity.  “This program plays a crucial role in helping these students see the future and develop things and be the people and innovators and entrepreneurs and investors in tech companies,” said Summer Program Manager Robert Nishimwe.

On Monday around 40 high school students are set to begin a seven week long virtual tech workshop.  Nishimwe said, “It will help the kids understand the challenges being faced in health, agricultural and transportation industries and the ways technology can be used to mitigate against those challenges.”

This free program has helped remove barriers for underserved students.  Nancy says 98 percent of her students have gone on to college.  The one hurdle they haven’t overcome is space.  The small room in the basement of Zion Lutheran Church in the Beaverdale neighborhood is where the magic happens.  “For me as a female founder and a black person in Iowa, trying to convince people to even fund us it’s been difficult,” said Mwirotsi.

As technology continues to create powerful tools from the smallest devices, making a lot from a little is something Mwirotsi hopes can stay reserved for microchips and not the PI 515 budget.  “To see these kids navigate the toughest of all spaces that were meant to deny them access, I’ve learned so much from them because I’ve learned courage, strength, things I ever knew I had,” said Mwirotsi.

PI 515 has also partnered with Des Moines Public Schools.  Some of the high school students in the program even get a chance to teach tech to middle school students.

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