‘COVID SLAM’ project provides tech path for Baltimore students | COMMENTARY

This fall, SmartLogic and the Digital Harbor Foundation (DHF) are embarking on a project designed to develop entrepreneurial skills in a group of Baltimore City students.

While this is a charitable endeavor, we also consider it to be an important investment in the future of our city. We are building pathways for more Black and brown students and citizens of Baltimore to join the tech community, become entrepreneurs and design solutions for the very real challenges faced by our city.


It should not be news to anyone that diversity is valuable in any organization; article after article has come out citing statistics demonstrating that startups founded and co-founded by women perform better over time and companies with diverse leadership perform better financially. Likewise, Baltimore residents are well aware of the many challenges faced by our home city, including the impact of decades of systemic racism, inequitable access to resources and struggling public infrastructure. And that’s all before the pandemic hit, which we also know is hitting Black and brown communities harder.

So we’re partnering to run a program, the COVID SLAM, where we will fund three teams of Baltimore City students to work on a design challenge specifically aimed at addressing ways their communities are impacted by the coronavirus. The program is funded by SmartLogic and managed by DHF; students will be paid for their time, and partner organization Dent Education will participate through mentorship. The project will run as a design challenge complete with pitch sessions, judges and delivery of prototypes, with additional prize money available for the winning team. We see this partnership as an opportunity to fund and leverage the expertise of these non-profits while connecting the city’s youth to business professionals, bringing SmartLogic staff in as mentors throughout the project.


This paid experience will give the youth teams an opportunity to build something of their own devising, in service of a need in their community. The experience is also designed to help them build skills in remote workplace communication, team collaboration, design thinking and entrepreneurship. Providing an opportunity for students to do this work while paid is a way for us to value these young peoples’ time and creativity, and it also gives them a safe way to earn money during the pandemic.

Youth employment initiatives like the COVID SLAM and the city’s summer YouthWorks program provide a critical bridge between the skills developed in schools and the skills needed for success in a business environment. Nonprofits like DHF and Dent Education are doing great work with our city’s children, helping them develop resilience, nurturing their creative skills and encouraging them along their journeys of personal growth.

Building a truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive business community requires both short-term and long-term investment. Yes, we should all make sure we are recruiting from diverse sources, think about how we are screening candidates and make sure our job descriptions are not loaded with biased wording. And we should make sure we are supporting the diverse hires we already have on our teams. But to get to the scope of change we need for a truly equitable community, we need businesses to step up and become mentors that build connections with the people we want to see joining our ranks in the years and decades to come.

This season of giving, we encourage companies large and small across the region to think about how they can contribute to building a more equitable future, with their money and also with their time and expertise. We encourage you to find like-minded nonprofits and partner with them to support and enrich their existing programming. Take some time to really think about how your company’s skills, staff, and expertise can expand and support impactful programs in your community.

Yair Flicker ( is president of SmartLogic, and Andrew Coy ( is executive director of Digital Harbor Foundation.