Akron will soon have a new software and information technology training center up and running under the tutelage of Software Guild founders Eric Wise and Eric Ward.
This time, the effort is not aimed at computer neophytes but at working IT professionals in the region. It’s a company called DriveIT that Wise began talking about last year with workforce developers.
Wise and Ward are joined in the new startup by co-founder Ian Schwarber, who previously co-founded the EXL Center for experiential learning at the University of Akron and has long been a proponent of entrepreneurial and educational efforts in Akron.
“When I founded EXL, I became deeply involved in the Akron entrepreneurial/innovation community, and in my opinion, I found none better than the Software Guild,” Schwarber said. “I think the feeling was mutual, because we knew early on we were going to build something together next time around.”
He and Ward are minority owners in DriveIT. Wise will be the largest shareholder and said a small group of private local investors will be minority owners.
The new company will be based on White Pond Drive, on the fourth floor of the same building near I-77 that houses Stark State College, while the college’s permanent Akron campus on Perkins Street is being built.
“We’ll have two classrooms and a collaborative space,” Wise said.
DriveIT will offer training courses, called “workouts,” as hands-on classes led by industry experts in specific technologies, Wise said. The workouts each will run two to four weeks, usually with classes held two evenings a week and some shorter weekend sessions.
“It’s going to start slow and ramp up as we get more members. In April, we’ll be offering probably six or seven workouts,” Wise said.
Courses will cover not only a broad range of software development skills, but also topics such as business intelligence, cybersecurity and even address some interpersonal skills that Wise says some IT professionals need for their careers.
Wise will be CEO, and Ward will serve as chief learning officer. They were a management team at the Software Guild, which Wise sold in 2015. Schwarber joins the team as chief strategy officer.
DriveIT’s concept is what Wise refers to as “gym membership” training. Companies, or individuals, can buy a membership for $3,600 per year, per person. After that, a member can take as many of the offered courses as they like — and it will be DriveIT’s task to make sure it offers the coursework they want. Some a la cart course offerings will be available, and companies will be able to get discounts for large groups of members, Wise said.
So far, four large Akron companies have agreed to buy memberships for their employees, along with about 10 medium-size and smaller companies, Wise said.
He isn’t naming them yet, but his location is near major local employers already, including a local arm of Akron Children’s Hospital and FirstEnergy Corp.’s West Akron Campus and the site of its planned $37 million technical center.
“We’re prepared to handle between 1,200 and 1,500 (members) at that location. If it goes beyond that, we’ll expand it. … and we’ll be moving into Cleveland and Columbus pretty quickly, too,” Wise said.
Wise hopes to announce plans for expansion into Cleveland later this year, but said it’s too soon to talk about where that operation might be or with whom it will partner.
DriveIT’s business model meets a real need for midcareer level technical training in Akron — and likely other places as well. It’s especially in demand from people who don’t necessarily want to move up into management and administration, but do want to move up in their technical field, Wise said.
While DriveIT has just begun to seek corporate clients, demand is already strong, Wise said.
“I actually think I may have underestimated this,” he said.
Sue Lacy isn’t surprised. The president of the workforce development nonprofit ConxusNEO said she knows firsthand that local companies are hungry for both new midlevel IT employees and for ways to keep and advance the ones they already have.
“We’re really falling short in terms of preparing talent to fill those positions, so the strategy to work with companies that have solid middle-level employees who want to upskill — this is a great business model,” Lacy said.
It’s also good for economic development efforts, she said, because a deep IT talent pool is something companies look for when evaluating a new area and is just as important for companies seeking to stay here.
“I think this offers the opportunity to retain a higher percentage of employees, and we see there’s a lot of movement in this industry sector,” Lacy said. “As a company offers this sort of upscaling opportunity, that’s going to make it attractive to stay with that employer … And, clearly, if you have to recruit from outside of the region for some of these middle-skill jobs, it’s going to cost you money.”
Wise, Ward and Schwarber also are launching something else that Lacy said she strongly supports: a nonprofit, funded by DriveIT, called EcosySTEM. It will work with underprivileged students and their teachers to help encourage interest in STEM coursework, provide the tools to teach it and to get technical people involved in education efforts, DriveIT founders said.
That won’t be a new sector for the group, as Ward currently works with Akron’s North High School on STEM education and Schwarber has worked with St. Vincent de Paul Parish School and other schools in Akron.
Wise has also volunteered many hours of his time to help ConxusNEO, Lacy said.
She predicts his passion, along with a good business model, will mean DriveIT is likely to succeed.
DriveIT’s membership cost, $3,600, could be cheaper than sending an IT professional to a single conference, Lacy said, and that usually also involves travel expenses.
“And coding boot camps are getting expensive. Some are $15,000,” Lacy said.
As for downtown Akron, Wise said he’s not abandoning that. DriveIT will have a presence in the city’s planned Bounce Innovation Hub, he said.
“We’re very supportive of the mayor’s Bounce initiative, and we’re in discussions with them to have something in the Bounce space,” he said. “So White Pond will be the home office, and then we’ll have something at Bounce as well.”
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Shingler, Dan. (2018, February 11). DriveIT aims to rev up midcareer IT training. Crain’s Cleveland Business. Retrieved from http://www.crainscleveland.com/article/20180211/news