Corporations are starting to get that tech skills are fundamental regardless of an employee’s job title, providing a new customer base and revenue stream for the growing community of code schools around the nation.

Tech Talent South of Charlotte has been onto the trend for awhile, but a fresh investment from Charlotte-area Cramer Mountain Growth Partners is accelerating plans to bring more corporate tech skills training to market. The deal is the first direct investment by the newly-established venture fund in Cramerton, North Carolina, which invests in software and media technology businesses.

The funding means that every Tech Talent South campus—including five North Carolina locations in Charlotte, Raleigh, Asheville, Wilmington and Winston-Salem—will offer customized code education for corporate teams beyond what is already offered in the school’s existing corporate training catalogue.

The specific details of the investment were not disclosed, but Tech Talent South Founder Betsy Hauser Idilbi says her company has millions of dollars to work with. The partnership also includes mentorship from the Cramer Mountain team.

Idilbi and co-founder Richard Simms launched Tech Talent South just over four years ago in Atlanta. Now headquartered in Charlotte, it has built strong relationships with tech ecosystems, and the students and companies involved in Tech Talent South’s 11 local markets.

This was a key driver of the investment and partnership, Idilbi says, along with Tech Talent South’s track record of turning a profit without raising outside funding.

A whiteboard showcases Tech Talent South’s “Do Something Big” slogan, and some student-contributed sentiments around the idea. Credit: Tech Talent South

Corporate training and university partnerships are a key way that Tech Talent South is differentiating itself as accelerated code schools continue to face staunch criticism from academics, the press and, perhaps most credibly, from their own graduates. To cope with the negative public perception, many programs have had to re-position their messaging to answer to the skeptic view, some lowering their course tuition prices or launching partially-inclusive scholarship opportunities in the process.

Tech Talent South appears to have avoided criticism so far, with its widely positive reviews from graduates.

But the school has unveiled a full-ride Diversity in Technology Scholarship program in partnership with Extended Stay America, to address concerns over accessibility and cost.

Its campuses also offer free coding classes for kids and no-cost community workshops for local professionals. And it’s making programs more accessible with an online shop where folks wanting to learn tech skills can schedule remote, one-on-one tutoring and mentorship sessions tailored to their specific needs without having to be enrolled in the school’s classes to qualify.

These programs foreshadow how Tech Talent South expects its long-term corporate strategy to play out.

Partnership lays the foundation for corporate programming expansion

Cramer Mountain Growth Partners founders Don Doctor and Chris Noe knew firsthand how the corporate market could benefit from Tech Talent South’s code-training programs.

Doctor is a serial entrepreneur who has led several tech companies as founder and/or CEO, including Charlotte IT support company Systems Maintenance Services (which merged with Curvature in January), Tennessee-headquartered Premier Systems Integrators, Encoda Systems (acquired by Harris Corp. in 2004), and Texas IT solutions company CompuCom.

Noe, an investor and business development executive, has led within companies like IBM, Computer Sciences Corporation (which merged with Hewlett Packard’s enterprise services unit earlier this year) and KPMG. He’s also managed Hickory-based business consulting firm Katalyst and Pennsylvania’s Dublin Capital Partners.

Idilbi first reached out to Doctor to seek his guidance as a mentor to Tech Talent South. Soon after, she discovered he would be transitioning to the board at CompuCom and focusing full time on the launch of a new investment fund. After establishing a mentor-mentee relationship, Doctor invited Idilbi to pitch the new firm.

Part of the draw was to leverage Doctors’ corporate leadership experience to inform how Tech Talent South could expand programming to meet the needs of corporate teams.

Idilbi recalls, “One motivating factor for CMGP was that Don had personally experienced the need for tech talent and knew the challenges they would have around acquiring and training skilled talent in the future.”

But it was Tech Talent South’s scrappy history of molding steady growth out of multidisciplinary tech training models that made the partnership a fit for Cramer Mountain. Since its launch in 2013, the code school has grown to 1,630 students across 11 cities.

Infographic presented in a January 2017 story shows statistics from campuses in a handful of Tech Talent South locations throughout the Triangle where local tech professionals are learning skills in areas ranging from iOS development to web design. Credit: Shannon Cuthrell/ExitEvent

Idilbi says Cramer Mountain was also excited about Tech Talent South’s base in the local tech community, “which is also what drove our initial organic interest from corporations.”

In a statement accompanying news of the partnership, Doctor said Cramer Mountain believes Tech Talent South “can continue its success of architecting out programs within corporate walls and understanding the needs to better supplement partner programs and their skills acquisition, development and retention needs.”

A corporate-focused strategy with human capital at the center

A number of case studies help to validate Tech Talent South’s growth plans.

The first comes from the IT department at Peak 10, a 17-year-old IT infrastructure and cloud services company headquartered in Charlotte. Leaders there typically hire code school and college grads with skills in computer science, and train existing employees to onboard new hires with the specific skills they’ll need in their new jobs.

But that process distracted the company’s employees from doing their usual work so Peak 10 asked Tech Talent South for help. The code school created a custom training program in conjunction with its flagship eight-week code immersion course.

The training took place right after new employees were hired so Peak 10’s existing employees could continue their day-to-day projects and tasks.

Peak 10 Human Resources Director Debbie Lawrence says the program supplied a two-pronged benefit for the company, both in training and recruiting. It helped Peak 10 internally “develop a path for employees to make the transition into a development career,” something the company had struggled to do before Tech Talent South stepped in.

It also extended code education opportunities to Peak 10 employees based in other cities where Tech Talent South has campuses.

“Tech Talent South has been a successful recruiting funnel for Peak 10, allowing us to target and hire bright, motivated individuals fresh from the program,” Lawrence notes. “These hires have been able to ‘hit the ground running’ with very little ramp time to production.”

Another program Tech Talent South tested out with Loyola University of New Orleans helped prepare computer science students to enter the workforce.

Loyola wanted to provide an Introduction to Web Development-style course to students, but instead of developing the programming internally, the university reached out to Tech Talent South to help deliver a new curriculum.

That led to a 10-week web and software development course for graduating seniors and recent alumni from any degree-granting university looking for a job in the tech industry.

A new vector for Tech Talent South’s code education offerings

Helping spearhead the fresh corporate programming efforts is Tech Talent South’s new Vice President of Business Partnerships Darrell Jones, a UNC Kenan-Flagler grad, former SAS South Asia business development team leader and former global director of enablement at Atlassian who helped grow that company’s customer base before its $462 billion IPO a few years ago.

Jones says the Cramer Mountain partnership will provide Tech Talent South advice on how to structure growth geographically and with new content—ultimately “marrying that to corporate needs.”

Tech Talent South wants to lead the way in helping companies establish a new vision of workforce onboarding and training. That means a continual evolution of content and curriculum to adapt to corporate needs and the changing tech landscape.

“Tech Talent South is only successful as students,” Jones adds. “And the net beneficiary of the Tech Talent South experience are the actual corporations themselves.”