Google outreach program awards Austin tech entrepreneur

Joel Rojo, a 25-year-old Harvard graduate and software developer, was one of three winners nationally of the CODE2040 Google for Entrepreneurs award. Joel Rojo, a 25-year-old Harvard graduate and software developer, was one of three winners nationally of the CODE2040 Google for Entrepreneurs award.[/caption]

Last-second persistence paid off for Austin entrepreneur Joel Rojo, who was was one of three people nationally to be awarded a Google residency program during the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference.

Rojo submitted his application for the CODE2040 Residency the day of the deadline after learning about the program through a friend.

"He said he knew I was looking for grant money," Rojo said. "I immediately felt this was the kind of dream program for me, and I didn't even know it existed."

The CODE2040 Residency is an initiative by Google for Entrepreneurs, which last year picked Austin as its eighth North American entrepreneurial hub. The 25-year-old Harvard University graduate receives $40,000 in investment money, work space at technology incubator Capital Factory in downtown Austin, a trip to Silicon Valley for Google-led training as well as networking and mentoring from other Google for Entrepreneurs participants.

"It's really awesome to have set office space," Rojo said. "We're really small, so before we used to work out of coffee shops."

In addition, he receives support to carry out community diversity initiatives as part of the CODE2040 award, which is geared toward young minorities succeeding in the tech industry. Rojo, a 25-year-old son of Mexican immigrants, said he looks forward to being a role model for other minorities who may aspire to also become software developers.

"For me, I never really thought this was all possible but as I got older, Harvard opened my eyes and made realize these goals are attainable no matter who you are or where you're from," said Rojo, who sometimes returns to his native South Texas hometown to meet Hispanic students who are contemplating tech careers.

His short but busy career includes experience working at Google's Creative Lab and job search website Indeed. His current project, TicketKarma, seeks to become a new player in the online secondary ticket market.

The seed money and Google support allows Rojo to more fully dedicate himself to TicketKarma, which he considered a side job before. He is working on a mobile application for the website that he said should be ready in the next month or two.

In the meantime, he also intends to do more outreach to help close what he considers to be a gap in minority employment at tech companies—a gap he said comes partially out of lack of minority students seeking careers in tech fields.

"If we can motivate the community to push harder and get involved and actually dream big and at the same time motivate companies to be open-minded to equality, then something beautiful can happen and the economy can shift toward more equal demographics," Rojo said.
By Joe Lanane
Joe Lanane’s career is rooted in community journalism, having worked for a variety of Midwest-area publications before landing south of the Mason-Dixon line in 2011 as the Stillwater News-Press news editor. He arrived at Community Impact Newspaper in 2012, gaining experience as editor of the company’s second-oldest publication in Leander/Cedar Park. He eventually became Central Austin editor, covering City Hall and the urban core of the city. Lanane leveraged that experience to become Austin managing editor in 2016. He managed eight Central Texas editions from Georgetown to San Marcos. Working from company headquarters, Lanane also became heavily involved in enacting corporate-wide editorial improvements. In 2017, Lanane was promoted to executive editor, overseeing editorial operations throughout the company. The Illinois native received his bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University and his journalism master’s degree from Ball State University.


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