The Latina who has created a small Silicon Valley in one of California's poorest cities
A third generation Chicano migrant, Irma Olguin is the founder of Bitwise technology, and is determined to give others like her a chance.
Jumping from one social class to another is only easy when you go down. Even in the "supposed" country of opportunity, it seems to be written that origin equals destiny. Which is to say, if you are born an Olguin — a family of migrants dedicated to the grape harvest living in Caruthers, California, one of the poorest places in California and mostly Hispanic outside of Fresno — the social gap is almost as wide as a crack.
"My parents told us that if we wanted to go to college, we had to do it on our own," Irma Olguin told BBC Mundo.
Her determination to pursue higher education led her to get a scholarship to study at the University of Toledo in Ohio. This blow of fate — accompanied by her efforts — changed her life.
When Irma graduated degrees in computer science and engineering, she decided to return to Fresno, where more than 20% of the population lives below the poverty line.
"I wanted to bring the opportunities of the technology sector to my hometown," she said.
About two hours away from the technological empire par excellence is Bitwise Industries, a company valued at $100 million, which Irma Olguin created in 2013 with rather ambitious goals.
Bitwise is not only dedicated to software development and the real estate business, but is also a technology training center that offers courses in entrepreneurship, computing, digital marketing, and everything necessary to prepare the new generations for the challenges of the future. In addition, the computer pioneer wanted to lay a good base from the beginning, giving equal opportunities to women — who make up half of her staff in the software division — and to ethnic minorities.
The company is doing so well that now the Hispanic Zuckerberg has opened the spectrum and wants to put other parts of the country often forgotten by big companies back on the map.
"We've found a different way to rebuild American cities using technology," the entrepreneur said.
"What we want is to rebuild disadvantaged cities in a more just and inclusive way."
The geographical distribution of people does not only affect their chances of prospering, but even their life expectancy, experts say.
The North has always been much richer than the South, and this is true across continents, within countries and even within cities. For example, while the Northwest of the United States, which stretches from Maryland to Maine and includes cities like New York and Boston, is the crown jewel, as is the Pacific Coast, being born in a city like Detroit, a forgotten automotive center, automatically gives you far fewer educational and socioeconomic opportunities and even greater health problems — Detroit is the most polluted place in the entire country.
The dismantling of the former industrial fiefdoms may explain this fall from grace, but also the poor distribution of wealth. As if — and this seems almost a mathematical law — the less you are worth and the less you have, the less you will be worth and have in the future. A snowball effect of sorts.
However, initiatives such as that of Irma Olguin are turning the tables, with a mixture of intelligence, courage, conscience and, why not say it, a good pair of ovaries!