Tag: FreeFlow Research

FreeFlow Research Works to Recruit More Tech Talent to the U.S.

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Photo courtesy of FreeFlow Research

Photo courtesy of FreeFlow Research and Geekdom

A growing skills gap exists in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields for workers in the U.S.

One reason for this is because there is a lack of U.S. born students pursuing STEM degrees. Peter French believes something needs to be done to fill this gap.

French is the founder of a nonprofit organization called FreeFlow Research. FreeFlow is based at Geekdom in San Antonio, the largest co-working space in Texas. The purpose of FreeFlow is to build a strong network of researchers and entrepreneurs who are engaged in basic and/or applied scientific research in areas of cloud computing, software and technology development, mobile applications, clean energy technology, and other STEM-related industries.

FreeFlow, founded in October of 2012, last year merged with the Technology Connexus Association, which formally designated FreeFlow as a 501(c)(3) and exempted it from being federally taxed. That nonprofit designation helps FreeFlow pursue its mission to recruit top international talent to the U.S.

“The secret is out that having the smartest people, no matter where they’re from, is the way that your economy is going to move forward quickly and exponentially,” French said. “The U.S., from a policy standpoint, has just been slow in responding. My original vision in pursuit with FreeFlow is let’s find a tool that doesn’t require changes in the law that we can use right now to help retain smart talent.”

The name for FreeFlow Research clicked when French thought about how ideas, like email, can move freely across borders. Patents and intellectual property can be bought, sold, and moved around the world freely. Individuals who develop those ideas can not move from place to place so easily.

freeflow-square (1)One of the main goals FreeFlow has is to strengthen the relationship between San Antonio and Mexico at the tech sector level. The other goal is to reverse flow. FreeFlow wants to bring Mexican companies and investment into San Antonio to help make them stronger and more robust companies, but also wants to help U.S. companies who want to access the Mexican and Latin American market and get a better cultural understanding of what’s happening down there.

The idea with FreeFlow is to symbolize the freedom of movement of people, as well as ideas, French said.
“People should be able to live wherever they want,” he said. “If we want to have globally competitive companies, we should be able to have a global workforce. It should be an on-demand capability. (FreeFlow) wants to help facilitate that on-demand flow of people.”

In 2000, the U.S. congress passed the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act. Before this passed, there was a sudden deficiency in talented researchers and Ph.D holders at U.S. universities and research organizations. Even federally funded programs like NASA and the Pentagon were lacking the talent they needed. The reason for this is because of the cap on H-1B visas that could be given to foreign individuals. Many of the qualified individuals who could fill positions at these places were foreign-born.

Congress thought they should make an exemption for certain organizations. That exemption is what enables FreeFlow to conduct research partnerships with for-profit entities or even other not-for-profit entities.
The Brooklyn Law School in New York has been a tremendous help and resource for FreeFlow, French said.

“They have people there that have a deep understanding of the legal issues both on the IRS side and on the immigration side, but have the willingness, desire, and drive to understand how to interpret all of these regulations to produce the outcome that we want. We’re continuing to look for people who share our vision and see the value in creating these talent communities.”

Jared Brenner, a second-year law student at Brooklyn Law and student clinician at the Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy clinic, said French is what he would call a “social entrepreneur.”

“He’s somebody who’s sensitive to the public interest, but at the same time is not averse to helping companies large and small turn a profit,” Brenner said. “I think it’s becoming increasingly important to find ways for entities to do that to kind of bridge the gap between for-profit and non-profit ventures.”

Brenner said French is an open-minded individual and he’s willing to try new ways to get the tech talent the U.S. needs.

“FreeFlow is really all about protecting the information economy and fostering innovation by allowing companies to use new innovative ways to bring over highly-skilled workers that they need, and to keep students here to develop specialized projects,” Brenner said.

There are a lot of foreign entities out there such as European startups who would love to get an American foothold, but who struggle with visa questions, Brenner said.

“I really think we should be making it as easy as possible for these people to come over here and create,” he said. “I don’t see any reason why they should be stopped by an arbitrary cap on visas for highly-skilled workers. That’s what Peter and I agree on, and that’s why we work well together.”

Luis Martinez, Ph.D, is the director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Trinity University in San Antonio. He said there has always been the challenge with regards to international students in STEM, specifically at the graduate level and undergraduate level.

“They come to the United States, get trained in science, technology, or math and then are expected or required to give back,” Martinez said. “The challenge and the difficulty with that is we train these individuals up to be amazing scientists or fantastic engineers and then we ship them back home so they can become direct competitors to the industries we’re trying to grow here in the United States.”

For our country’s economic competitiveness, it’s important that we have a broad pool of talent to be able to further fuel that engine, Martinez said.

“One of the things that makes innovation and entrepreneurship in the United States really fantastic is that you have the opportunity for a diverse pool of talent, experience levels, and knowledge base,” he said. “It’s in that diversity that we will have strength when it comes to developing the next generation of trend-setting, world-changing companies and startups.”

Freeflow has launched an outreach campaign which targets international students enrolled in STEM programs at Texas universities. French and his team is designing a skills and needs assessment tool that will provide individuals with access to immigration and entrepreneurship resources, as well as offer them a chance to explore FreeFlow’s marketplace of opportunities for research projects, internships, apprenticeships and jobs.

FreeFlow has received a grant from the 80/20 Foundation. A big push for 2014 is to pursue other grants and private funding. FreeFlow also welcomes volunteers who want to help the organization. To share a personal immigration story, fill out a fellowship application, donate money, or volunteer visit FreeFlow’s website.

Geekdom is a sponsor of Silicon Hills News

New Rules, New Tools for Startups and Tech Companies

Founder of Silicon Hills News

Duane La Bom with the Open Cloud Academy

Duane La Bom with the Open Cloud Academy

The demand for high tech workers outstrips the supply.
So Rackspace Hosting came up with an innovative solution. The San Antonio-based company launched the Open Cloud Academy last year to put people through a rigorous training program that equips them to do jobs as network systems administrators and other technical positions.
“I can get you job ready in a matter of two to three months,” said Duane La Bom, director of training at Rackspace and director at the Open Cloud Academy.
La Bom spoke on a panel at FreeFlow Research’s New Rules, New Tools San Antonio event Monday night at Geekdom. The panel focused on new training opportunities to match skilled workers with jobs. It also touched on new ways to raise money for startups through equity-based crowdfunding.
Peter French, founder of FreeFlow Research

Peter French, founder of FreeFlow Research

Peter French, founder of FreeFlow Research, also announced his startup has merged with John Hill’s Technology Connexus Association, a nonprofit technology research organization. FreeFlow Research will continue to be based at Geekdom and will also sponsor more events in coming months, French said.
The other panelists included Andres Traslavina with MyEdu, an Austin-based startup, Luis Martinez with Trinity University, Joy Schoffler with Leverage PR and CF50 and Nathan Roach with Greenhouse.
Originally, Rackspace planned to hire about a third of the graduates from the Open Cloud Academy. But to date, it has hired 68 percent of the graduates, La Bom said. The other 30 percent have found jobs with other companies, he said.
The Open Cloud Academy also focuses on helping military veterans find jobs in the commercial world and it adds some diversity to the typical candidates Rackspace hires for IT jobs, La Bom said.
“We wanted to get more females and more minorities into IT. The Open Cloud Academy was a way to do that,” he said.
The Open Cloud Academy classes costs between $3,500 and $4,000 and lasts between eight to ten weeks. Typically, Rackspace paid $12,000 to $15,000 to a recruiter for each technical person it hired. Now it can avoid those costs by training its own IT workers, La Bom said.
Traslavina with MyEdu said the startup helps students plan their careers by using academic tools and simple apps to make their lives easier. MyEdu can also unveil their innate talent and help them visually set up a portfolio of their projects, work experiences and academic credentials, he said.
“We focus on helping recruiters hire potential and not focus on the traditional hiring credentials,” he said. .
New Rules, New Tools San Antonio panel

New Rules, New Tools San Antonio panel

Trinity University’s focus is on undergraduate education and its strength is in equipping students with critical thinking skills, said Martinez with Trinity.
“We match students with opportunities for real world experience plus the community here in San Antonio,” Martinez said.
San Antonio’s entrepreneurial community is like Boston in the 1980s, Martinez said. Lots of entrepreneurial ventures and innovate growth is happening in San Antonio right now, he said.
Rackspace has also partnered with high school programs to recruit younger students to pursue careers in Information Technology jobs, La Bom said.
And the Open Cloud Academy does not yet have specific funding for veterans yet, but Project Quest and Workforce Solutions Alamo both provide scholarships to attend the programs.
Project Quest covers 50 percent of the tuition costs for students who qualify and also reimburses them up to two months rent and provides money for utilities and childcare costs too.
The Workforce Solutions Alamo provides funding through a Federal fund.
To date, 20 students have received a full scholarship to attend the Open Cloud Academy under that program and another 45 received funding through Project Quest, La Bom said.

Geekdom is a sponsor of Silicon Hills News

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