Matt Gray is determined to turn Toronto into the next Silicon Valley.
As one of the founders of Bitmaker Labs, a Toronto-based educational program that trains Web developers in just nine weeks, Gray is dedicated to changing the world.
"Toronto is the world's eighth largest startup ecosystem and our goal is to catapult it into first place," asserts Gray, a graduate of the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont.
"Most companies are starved for talent as a result of brain drain and the simple fact that most of the skills we teach aren't taught in postsecondary institutions. We're the first education platform of our kind in Canada."
Gray, 23, launched the concept this year with the help of fellow Ivey grads Tory Jarmain, Duncan McCall, Will Richman and Andrew Mawer. They already have 24 students poised to graduate from the program on May 3.
Each student paid $7,000 for the opportunity to learn tough computer concepts in a condensed period of time as a means of securing employment in today's increasingly digitized world.
Prior to enrolment, students were required to complete a 60-hour prep course taking them through Web programming language basics in order to maximize the effectiveness of actual class time. The student-teacher ratio is 8 to 1.
"We developed the program by surveying over 50 technology companies to find out what they were looking for in entry-level Web developers," Gray says. "We incorporated this feedback into our curriculum in order to make students highly employable; they're learning programming languages and frameworks that are cutting edge and not taught in most postsecondary institutions."
After the graduation date, Bitmaker Labs will hold a "hiring week" in Toronto at its Duncan Street offices, with companies from across Canada and the United States attending in person or remotely.
"They will have the chance to interview our students and hire them on if there's a fit," Gray says.
Landing a job is what inspired one 18-year old participant to quit postsecondary school in favour of the Bitmaker Labs program.
"The education system was designed during the Industrial Revolution to prepare students to become workers by, for example, having them follow instructions and do repetitive tasks. This resonates with my experience in college and I didn't want to spend a big chunk of my life doing things that weren't meaningful to me," writes the student in a recent blog posting.
"I didn't want to learn so I could get a diploma or a job, but so I could be empowered to affect the world in the way I want to."
The idea for Bitmaker Labs evolved after two of Gray's co-founders attended a similar program in the United States and wanted to create something even more intense in Toronto.
"We believe there's an incredible amount of latent human potential out there," continues Gray. "We have so many friends that are graduating university and are either unemployed or underemployed. Meanwhile, there's a skill shortage in Canada. Our goal is to empower people with a skill set for the 21st century."