20 April 2023 |

Building Tech Economies Where It Matters


Tipping the pizza delivery guy might not seem like an indicator of wealth. 

But for some, it’s the difference between living paycheck-to-paycheck and living large.

Meet the tech founder who brings her community that large pizza – with extra toppings

Latina founder Irma L. Olguin Jr. is the CEO and Co-Founder of Bitwise Industries, a triple threat when it comes to bringing more diverse faces to the technology sector.

But before leaving cash tips on the table, Irma had to find the door.

A descendant of Mexican immigrants, Irma came from Fresno, California. 

An area with a high number of farmers and very low number of wealthy landowners, which presented an inherent disparity in where wealth flowed — and where it didn’t.

Life on the farm wasn’t going to cut it for Irma, especially with the socio-economic system rigged against her ability to build wealth as a first-gen entrepreneur. 

So, she took a hard left turn and landed herself in the technology industry. 

And just like that…cheese pizza please.

By landing in technology education, Irma and later her co-founder, were able to go from cringing when the bill arrived to tipping generously and without worry. 

But solving her own problems was just the beginning. 

How could she recreate her experience for others to find technology education leading them to life changing jobs too?

Like any great idea, the answer to this question started small, just a slice of the pie.

So Irma decided to give people from her community technology education.

It started as a 1,200 square foot co-working space for $39 a month, running classes nights and weekends for friends and family. 

Now, this deeply personal mission to improve the life of her neighbors has exploded.

Today it has: 

  • 1 million square feet of previously vacant, blighted spaces within underserved downtown areas across the country, creating vibrant spaces for innovation and commerce.
  • 10,000 students trained from underestimated communities who otherwise might not have considered the tech industry as a place for them (80% of those have gone on to technical employment after completion of the program)
  • A quarter of a million dollars in wages earned by apprenticeships

And the California based tech-hub Bitwise Industries focuses on 3 things:

  1. Training tech workers in marginalized communities
  2. Developing software that supports^
  3. Investing in real estate that can be converted into tech friendly spaces

Bitwise Industries has helped support the creation of over 15,000 jobs in just one of its cities. This accounts for over a-quarter-of-a-billion-dollars in aggregated wages, mostly going to women and people of color, and the growth of the city’s GDP by over 1% per year.

In Cali alone, the coding and tech skills arm of the company has already trained over 5,000 people, with 80% of them going on to find gainful employment.

And having expanded to New York, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and most recently… 

In February 2023, Bitwise announced an $80 million raise fueling a southside Chicago expansion. 

Bitwise is also one of the few LatinX and women-led tech companies to gain access to early-stage equity investments. 

With major investors like JPMorgan Chase and Kapor Capital, Irma’s company raised over $100 million in venture capital in 2021.

We love to see it. 👏🏽

By creating pathways for others like her to walk right through the door behind her, Irma and her counterparts at Bitwise are walking the walk to the fullest.

We call that being the change if I ever saw it. 

Finding that special someone to emulate that *actually* looks like you can present big challenges for diverse entrepreneurs looking to make that chedda for themselves and their communities. 

In a sea of wondering how to belong and succeed, women like Irma are the silver lining.

And we can be the change too, by shining a light on the stories that don’t get told enough.