As ballooning housing prices threaten the jobs and stability of some Austin residents, quick fixes are hard to come by.
Some of this inflation is driven by the growing number of high-paying tech companies and startups making their homes in the city. However, startups may also play a large role in a long-term solution.
On Nov. 12, 10 startups focused on housing affordability and workforce development will present their concepts to the community. Some are nonprofits, some are for profit, and all are part of the Austin Impact Accelerator led by Impact Hub Austin.
Impact Hub Austin provides programming and coworking space for enterprises aimed at improving social welfare. It’s a part of the larger Impact Hub International network, which has 81 similar incubators operating across five continents.
Past accelerator cohorts have raised $9.6 million in funding, placed 875 families and individuals in affordable housing and trained 470 people for jobs that pay a living wage.
The Nov. 12 event is a fundraising opportunity for the 10 most recent accelerator participants, as well as a chance to showcase what they learned from the accelerator’s weekly workshops.
The featured ventures’ missions range from streamlining the application process for affordable housing to sending GED study materials to incarcerated persons.
One of the startups, E4 Youth, focuses on workforce preparedness for young people of color ages 16 to 22. It’s not your typical STEM education program, however. E4 Youth zeroes in on the intersections of technology and creativity to help young creative types find their callings in the professional world.
“If a kid of color says they want to be an engineer or a lawyer or a doctor, everybody’s happy,” E4 Youth founder Carl Settles said. “But if a kid likes to do music, like me, their parents and teachers are really just trying to talk them out of pursuing their creativity, and it becomes a way of disenfranchising these students because they don’t feel like they’re being seen. And, at a certain point, they disconnect from education.”
Settles’ own career has taken multiple forms. He studied music at the University of Texas, taught elementary school, produced music for educational software companies and parlayed his skills into an advertising career after the Great Recession. Through it all, his creative skills propelled him forward, he said.
More than a decade ago, Settles set out to build an environment where kids of color could pursue their own creative paths.
Today, E4 Youth partners with local businesses and community organizations to create job shadowing, mentorship and internship opportunities for young people.
Its Digital Docent initiative lets college-age students build out their digital media portfolios by collecting and digitizing oral histories from older people of color in the Austin community. It’s called the Austin Digital Heritage project, and it integrates with local landmarks so passerby can point their smartphones and access stories about the people who lived and worked in the area.
For students, the project is an opportunity to earn money and build professional skills without getting overwhelmed — college students that work demanding part-time jobs have less headspace to pursue high-earning fields, Settles noted. Meanwhile, for the droves of newly-minted Austinites, it’s a chance to understand their city and its context.
“Many of the folks that are here in Austin, they have a very cursory sense of the history. I don't think people come here with malintent. They come here with good things in their hearts. But when you don’t know anything, you can’t do any better,” Settles said.
Participating in Austin Impact Accelerator let Settles put his head together with other founders and leverage their insights, he said. It also helped him better understand the intricacies of the City of Austin’s equity goals — and its “love language” when it comes to securing funding.
“Getting an understanding of what types of outputs and outcomes they’re looking for and being able to embed that language in the things we’re doing makes us much more likely to be able to tap into those resources,” he said.
Inching closer to an equitable workforce may require some finesse, but Settles seemed confident that nurturing kids’ creativity is one way to get there.
“Creativity is what’s driving our economy,” he said.