Bringing Diversity to Tech with Jessica Santana


In this fellow highlight series, Camelback Ventures shares quick snapshots of our entrepreneurs' work and perspectives.

"My entire career, I had mentors who weren't from low-income backgrounds. There were no people who reflected my story." Jessica Santana, one of our 2015 Fellows, told this in an interview last month with CNN Money when she explained why she left her six figure job to start a non-profit. With co-founder Evin Robinson, Jessica leads New York on Tech, an organization on a mission to prepare the next generation of technology leaders emerging from NYC by creating pathways for underrepresented students.  

Last month, Jessica was featured in a video by Huffington Post in which she helps dismantle the so-called "pipeline" problem, an excuse that many companies often use as to why they don't hire diverse candidates. NYOT also just received a $25,000 runner-up grant for the Forbes Change the World Competition. Jessica recently told us that their first class of students has now graduated high school with 100% success rate and that their students are now in college! Catch up with Jessica in our conversation below. 

Update: Since this was posted, Jessica, along with Fellows Jacob Allen (2015) and Nicole Cardoza (2016), was named in the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 in Education List. 

Tell us about a powerful experience that confirmed your organization is making an impact on your community.
This year we asked the students to finish the statement, "I'm a techie..." It is was amazing to see that many of them completed the phrase with socially conscious sentences that talked mostly about how they will leverage technology to impact their communities. I was moved by their stories and desires to create change and I am thankful they are letting NYOT be part of their journey.

What has been most surprising about your entrepreneurial journey?
I am surprised by what the NYOT team has accomplished in a short period of time by being focused, passionate and resilient. It is inspiring to see them advocate for our youth and work diligently to provide them opportunities that accelerate and leverage their greatness.

How has the Camelback Fellowship program most impacted your progress?
The Camelback Ventures Fellowship program immersed NYOT in an ecosystem of support that has championed our mission to the next level. I am grateful for the peers I met and the work they are doing in the community.

Who is your go to source for inspiration?
My co-founder, Evin Robinson, is my go-to source for inspiration. Also, YouTube is a great source of inspiration, full of interviews, advice and talks for the days you need a little motivation.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve experienced as underrepresented entrepreneur?
I don't see it as a challenge. I use my identity to inform our work at NYOT and the way we approach impact.

If you could have dinner with three people, dead or alive, who would you pick?
Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sotomayor, Marie Forleo

What books are at the top of your recommended reading list?
Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi, The Defining Decade by Meg Jay, and Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quiñonez

Looking into the crystal ball, where do you see NYOT in five years?
New York On Tech will be the leading technology education non-profit in New York City whose models have been nationally recognized for building high-impact programs that have left a significant influence in the innovation community, industry and economy. Our alumni will have become thought leaders, activists and inclusion champions at their companies and continue to pay it forward to generations that come after them.

Love that. Lastly, what is the best advice you’d offer an entrepreneur at the beginning of a new venture?
Self-care is extremely important. Know your limits and set boundaries.

To learn more about Jessica, her venture, and her experience with the Camelback Fellowship, click here.