Introducing the Venture Miami Scholarship Program: How to apply and how to donate

By Nancy Dahlberg

For students pursuing tech fields in Miami’s colleges and universities, the cost of tuition shouldn’t be a barrier. Venture Miami, together with local partners and donors, launched today a STEM scholarship program to make sure the tuition dollars are there for students who need it the most.

Today at City Hall, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez announced a partnership between Venture Miami, which is Miami’s innovation and economic development office, and The Miami Foundation to launch the Venture Miami Scholarship Program.

The scholarship, which will start in the spring semenster, offers tuition support to provide gap funding for in-need City of Miami residents who have been accepted into STEM programs at Florida International University, Florida Memorial University, Miami Dade College, and the University of Miami.

Philanthropist Ken Griffin of the Citadel, Yuga Labs and Bakkt were among the donors stepping up with initial funding for the scholarship program. The City of Miami and all four universities also contributed.

“Today marks a momentous milestone for the City of Miami,” Mayor Suarez said in a statement. “The whole purpose behind the Miami Movement was to create a boundless stream of opportunities for our residents to jumpstart their careers in the economy of tomorrow, and the Venture Miami Scholarship does just that. I am very proud of the whole team at Venture Miami for delivering on an initiative that furthers our mission of building a Miami That Works for Everyone.”

In remarks at the press conference Wednesday afternoon, he said, “We are giving every single Miamian who is a Pell grant recipient the balance of what is needed to go to college and get a STEM education for free … The ripple effect of this is incredibly profound.”

The mayor also said the scholarship program was designed to be easily copied and used by other cities and counties. “And as the president of the US Council of Mayors, I will urge every city in America to adopt a similar program…. This is what changes lives.”

More details on the program

Scholarships, grants and other financial aid often don’t cover the entire tuition cost, and that’s where this scholarship comes in – to be those last dollars in to fill that gap. “Basically, if you are pursuing a STEM degree on one of these four universities – FMU, MDC, FIU and UM – and you qualify, we will fund the tuition gap,” said Kevin Ruiz, Senior Advisor for Business Development and Recruitment for Venture Miami, in an interview with Refresh Miami.

Based on Venture Miami’s market study, about 500 current students at these schools would qualify for the new program. Because Venture Miami expects entering students to also apply, potentially Venture Miami could be dispersing up to 1,000 scholarships, Ruiz said.

“I’m super thrilled. This is about making sure that all these wonderful things that are happening in our community in terms of opportunity are available to all and we’re trying to level the access playing field,” said Ruiz, a Miami native. Perhaps the scholarship will help drive students to majors they may have been on the fence about – ones that lead to in-demand, high-wage tech jobs from software developer to cybersecurity analyst to game designer to data scientist. Bioscience fields are included too, and currently the scholarship opportunity also includes nursing because of the shortage in the market and nursing is also a high paying occupation relative to the overall market. More than 100 local degree programs are eligible. “We want to make sure we’re driving people to this opportunity to allow them to take full advantage of all that is going on here,” Ruiz said.

Many students could likely find good-paying jobs in any number of local tech companies, but Ruiz said a tuition-free experience could also give people the freedom to be more entrepreneurial. “My generation has just been crushed by student debt and what that means is, when you graduate, maybe you’re a little less entrepreneurial. This is going to allow them the freedom to  take some more risks.”

The fund is intended to be evergreen and a key offering in our entrepreneurial ecosystem, he added. “We want this to be an endowment that lives on a perpetuity. The idea behind this is we create these Venture Miami scholars over time… and it could lead to a lot more opportunities down the line more substantial than just the dollar amount.”

Who’s eligible?

To be eligible, students must meet the following requirements:   

  • City of Miami resident for 3-consecutive years at the time of application
  • Applicant must be a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident
  • High school senior or recent graduate within the last 4 years at the time of application
  • Pell Grant recipients determined by the Florida Student Aid FAFSA guidelines OR have a household income less than 80% of the AMI for the City of Miami if attending Miami Dade College.
  • Accepted into a bachelor’s degree program in a defined science, technology, engineering, and math (“STEM”) or a defined high-wage/demand occupation, currently nursing.

Donor support

The program is launching with an initial $500,000 allocation from the City of Miami, matched by $3.9 million from the participating universities. Citadel’s founder and CEO Ken Griffin issued a bold $1 million challenge grant for this fund’s sustainability, in addition to contributing a $250,000 initial gift. Griffin relocated his company’s headquarters from Chicago to Miami this year.

“This effort will help remove financial barriers for students who are pursuing technology, engineering and science degrees, further accelerating Miami’s path to becoming an international leader in finance and technology,” Griffin said in a statement.

Yuga Labs is contributing $300,000 to the effort, as part of a $1 million philanthropic commitment to funding arts and education in Miami; Bakkt is contributing $250,000.  Additional support came from Amazon, Novo and Zilch.

Venture Miami will be making a push for additional donations now through Give Miami Day on Nov. 17.

The Venture Miami Scholarship Program will be overseen by an advisory board. Members include Jacky Wright of Microsoft (and soon McKinsey); Josh Schertzer, Managing Director & CTO of Enterprise Technology at Blackstone; Dami Osunsanya, Director of Opportunity Fund at SoftBank; Chester Ng, General Partner of Atomic;  Saif Ishoof, Founder & Managing Partner of Lab22c; Miami-Dade County School Board Chief of Staff Katherine Leiva; and Jasmine Calin, Educational Consultant for Great Minds.

The Miami Foundation will manage the scholarship’s funding and execution. “This is how we build the future of Miami. This is what it looks like to be the most technologically inclusive city in the nation,” Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, CEO of the Miami Foundation, said during the press conference.

With this rollout, there are two calls to action:

  • If you are a student and qualify, apply.
  • If you can donate, please help.

To apply, make a donation or just find out more:

Save this date: Nov. 29

Also coming up from Venture Miami is the 3rd annual Venture Miami Tech Hiring Fair on Nov. 29. New this year: Leading up to the fair will be events and workshops, such as on resume building and certifications. “We’re preparing the student body a bit more so when they’re walking in, they feel more prepared at the hiring fair. It’s going to be more robust,” Ruiz said. Stay tuned for more details.

This story has been updated.


Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg and email her at [email protected]

Nancy Dahlberg