Microsoft’s TechSpark program coming to Wisconsin

Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer at Microsoft, says a new community engagement program from the global tech leader will “be a catalyst for economic investment and opportunity for all Americans.”

Wisconsin is one of six states where the TechSpark program is being rolled out; the others states are North Dakota, Virginia, Texas, Wyoming and Washington.

The program is meant to create jobs and boost the local economy in places outside of the country’s major metropolitan areas, according to a LinkedIn post from Smith.

“By partnering closely with leaders and communities on the ground, our goal is to learn more about regional challenges and how technology can help better contribute to local economic growth, with a plan to share our learnings more broadly,” he wrote last week.

He said the rapid growth in the economy stemming from technological advancement is creating challenges but also opportunities for American communities. He also said this economic surge has created “a responsibility for all of us” to commit to lifelong learning and help others to keep working as jobs and market demands shift.

Smith pointed to challenges facing businesses that are behind the times in terms of digital technology, as well as the importance of “fast and reliable” broadband for education, health care, agriculture and more.

“While we see these challenges across the country, they can be especially acute in rural communities and in less urban areas where populations are more widely spread, sometimes making it more expensive to scale programs and services,” he said.

In all six of the states it’s being introduced in, the initiative will broadly focus on five key areas:

*Digital transformation initiatives, which will work with startups as well as established companies to “develop their own digital technology advances to reinvent their business processes, deepen their connections to customers, empower their employees, and transform their products to foster business growth,” Smith said.

He said the TechSpark program will be working with local companies to “reinvent and reimagine” their business models. The first of these initiatives will be announced next month.

*Rural broadband, an area supported by the company’s Rural Airband Initiative, which aims to eliminate the “rural broadband gap” which hinders the success of more than 23 million Americans, Smith said.

“We’re partnering with telecommunications companies to use TV White Spaces technology to bring broadband connectivity to 2 million people in rural America by 2022, and we’re hoping to act as a catalyst for others to help close the whole gap,” he said.

*Digital skills and computer science education, supported by cash grants, resources for nonprofits, technology, and efforts to partner with schools to improve their curriculum.

Smith points to Microsoft’s Technology Education and Literacy in Schools Program as an example. The TEALS program brings computer science engineers into the classroom to teach computer skills alongside instructors.

TEALS is currently in 348 schools nationwide, with 1,100 volunteers from 500 companies sharing knowledge with over 12,000 students.

“We’re excited to share that North Dakota and Wisconsin are two of the communities where, together with 4H, we will bring the new Youth Community Leaders for Digital Transformation partnership,” Smith said. “This new program empowers youth as partners in decision-making and community leadership, using digital skills to help drive economic opportunities for their communities.”

*Career Pathways, a program to expand educational opportunities at community colleges and other places of learning.

“It will focus on enabling people to acquire the skills and connect with jobs that require less than a traditional four-year college degree,” Smith added. “We’re committed to doing more work in this space.”

*Support for nonprofits, which Smith says is central to Microsoft’s activities.

Microsoft and its employers have donated more than $1 billion in cloud services to over 90,000 nonprofits since the beginning of 2016.

“Recognizing the important role that nonprofit groups play in addressing local needs, Microsoft Philanthropies will increase its financial and technology support for nonprofit groups in each TechSpark region,” Smith said.

–By Alex Moe