Lehman’s Emerging Tech Mentorship Program Graduates Its First Cohort

VR Panel
With its Bronx Tech Incubator, which houses an augmented and virtual reality lab, Lehman was uniquely positioned to develop the emerging technology mentorship program.
By ALONZA LEWIS ROBERTSON

Twenty-eight small business owners in the Bronx are the first cohort to complete an emerging technology mentorship program piloted by Lehman College’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS) and the Verizon Foundation.

Under the initiative, which launched in October, the owners participated in eight hours of technology training via Zoom. They were also paired with a Verizon employee volunteer and mentor group for seven weekly sessions, where they covered topics such as financing, marketing, competitive analysis, and proposal writing. (Additional on-call help was available by phone, email, and text.) Business owners will continue meeting with their mentors as needed for 15 more weeks.

The program is the result of a two-year $100,000 grant Verizon awarded to the SCPS’s Bronx Tech Incubator last December to develop free training workshops in 5G technologies, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other web-based applications for 250 small businesses across the five boroughs. In particular, the program was designed to attract small business owners who are veterans and minority-and women-owned businesses (MWBEs).

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities,” said April Horton, a Verizon Government Affairs official. “Verizon’s partnership with Lehman demonstrates our commitment to supporting local MWBE’s within our communities and creating a path to ensure those businesses are prepared to embrace technological innovation.”

Vincent Navarro, the Bronx-born founder of a small healthcare software company that focuses on nurses’ digital learning, was enthusiastic about his future after completing the program. “I have a clear understanding of the path forward [and] the trajectory of my business,” Navarro said.

SCPS launched the second cohort this month. It will expand to four other CUNY schools, which will oversee eight more cohorts by the end of 2021: the College of Staten Island, Queens College, Manhattan's Baruch College, and the New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn.

Each school has either a Small Business Development Center or a technology center. Lehman has both—its Bronx Tech Incubator is home to an augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) lab, the only facility of its kind in both the CUNY system and the Bronx—which made the College uniquely qualified to develop this new technology program.

Verizon and Lehman hope their template can be used to attract more small business owners from underrepresented groups, like cohort members Kyana Beckles, who leads the digital human resources testing firm Leverage Assessments, and Branden Baskin, founder and president of the educational start-up Vivid Imagination.

“I had a great time—the mentors helped guide me in the next journey of my business,” said Baskin, who anticipates taking advantage of Verizon’s offer to continue working with cohort members on new product offers and provide further business assistance.

Navarro agreed. “I also came away with knowledge, ideas, motivation, and support from the others in my group too. It was fantastic!”