City fund contributes $250K for scholarships for youth skills development program

The program is meant to help curious young students hone their skills, build networks and ultimately find success in their entrepreneurial, professional or technological goals

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A city-owned investment fund is contributing more than $250,000 to help local youths prepare for careers in the tech sector.

Officials with the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund announced Wednesday that up to $256,000 will go to The Knowledge Society to support scholarships for high school students. The funds will help reduce financial barriers for 80 youths aged 13 and 17 to enrol in the society’s 10-month skills accelerator program, which provides intensive hands-on training and mentorship in a wide range of technology-focused sectors.

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Alumni from the program have gone on to build their own companies or work at big tech organizations — including some top-level post-secondary institutions and companies such as SpaceX, NASA, Microsoft and others. The 30 startups those youths have gone on to create have received a combined total of $85 million in funding.

Brad Parry, the CEO of OCIF and Calgary Economic Development, said while the investment is smaller than others given by the fund, it’s likely to have “one of the biggest impacts.”

“It wasn’t about the dollar value,” he said. “It was about the opportunity that we’re presenting our students and the opportunity for us to really tap into our community’s strengths.”

Brad Parry
Keynote speaker Brad Parry, President & CEO of Calgary Economic Development and CEO of Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund, during the 2024 Economic Outlook event at the Telus Convention Centre in Calgary on Wednesday, November 1, 2023. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

Knowledge Society helps curious students

The Knowledge Society was founded in 2016 by Calgary-born brothers Nadeem and Navid Nathoo. At a news conference Wednesday, Nadeem said the program built on what he and his brother wish they had access to growing up in Calgary. In its eight years in operation, the company has grown to support thousands of students in 60 countries worldwide.

The program, delivered on weekends throughout the school year, is meant to help curious young students hone their skills, build networks and ultimately find success in their entrepreneurial, professional or technological goals. Students get experience working with emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and help solve real problems facing global companies. By the end of their first year, Nathoo says the average student is completing work at a master’s or PhD level.

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“Our main goal by the end of the program is for students to develop a portfolio, because a portfolio is a signal of capability whereas a resume is a signal of experience — and young people don’t have a lot of experience,” said Nathoo.

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Neeor Alam and Atharva Rao are Calgary students currently enrolled in the program, focused on biocomputing and machine learning respectively. Both commended the program, with Rao saying one of the most important things he learned is that “you can become smart enough.”

“It’s not that you need to be smart in the beginning, but it’s that you need to be able to put in the work and effort, and be actually humble enough to take a lot of feedback,” he said.

Supporting homegrown talent

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the OCIF investment will support homegrown talent and provide opportunities that will allow them to stay in the city. She said investing in the workforce of the future will help create a more resilient local economy and she’s interested in collaborating with the organization on issues the city is facing.

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“There are some really big and wicked problems that are facing the city right now,” said Gondek. “Absolutely, I would like to retain talented folks like this into the future, but I would like to be working with them right now as well.”

Nathoo said the society plans to establish its global headquarters in Calgary and is committed to investing in and hiring local talent.

“There is a disproportionate amount of curious and driven young people in Calgary, specifically — something in the water,” he said.

OCIF is a $100-million fund started in 2018 by the City of Calgary, of which more than $82 million has been allocated to 27 projects.

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