Topcoder, Opportunity Hub Take Platforms to New Levels

Crowdsourcing and diversifying tech talent pools are goals of these platform ecosystems

By Paula Klein

Clearly, platform-centered markets are booming. Business-to-business and business-to-consumer platforms — Amazon, Facebook, and others — have become household names, and incumbent companies are racing to catch the wave. Everyone wants to learn from those on the leading edge, such as Airbnb and Uber.

At the same time, a new cohort of companies is using the ever-expanding universe of platforms to bring their business models to new markets. (Read more about platforms in entertainment and healthcare here.)

On July 13, 250 executives, entrepreneurs, technologists, and visionaries descended on MIT’s Media Lab for the sixth annual Platform Strategy Summit. Hosted by the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE), the day-long event explored the economics, trends, and management of platform-centered markets.

Topcoder Taps into the Crowd

Two executives spoke about ways they are using platform ecosystems to promote hiring and diversity. Topcoder is building on the idea that the battle for tech talent, particularly software developers, continues to escalate and is driving market consolidation such as Microsoft buying GitHub and Google scooping up Kaggle.

Topcoder was a crowdsourcing pioneer in 2001 when it began as a marketplace for developers, designers, and data scientists. Now it is tapping into the skills of millions of people around the world to meet app dev demand. The company’s platform engages people in coding and design competitions, said CEO Mike Morris.

Topcoder CEO Mike Morris at the Platform Strategy Summit.

The community is viral and growing by about 50,000 people per quarter. “We are very much in the hearts and the minds of the developer community, and we’re in every corner of the globe,” Morris said. Topcoder has five times more engineers than Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter combined, Morris said, claiming that it’s the work rather than the prize money that’s attracting developers to the exchange.

“Freelancers are going to migrate to these platforms as a place to explore healthcare coverage options, get a pipeline of steady work, and find interesting projects,” he said.

While tech sector employment is growing in total numbers, minorities continue to be underrepresented in the industry. Rodney Sampson, CEO of Opportunity Hub, is addressing this hiring gap and making inclusive innovation a reality. (Read about the MIT IDE Inclusive Innovation Challenge here.)

Opening Doors to Much-needed Opportunities

Talking with Summit co-director, Peter Evans, Principal at KPMG, Sampson — also an author, investor, and entrepreneur — said open platforms can help increase diversity in technology hiring and expand much-needed opportunities for people of color and those in socially disadvantaged communities.

“Considering inflation, the net worth of African-American families is about the same as it was after the emancipation of slaves,” according to Sampson. “I’m not talking income. I’m not talking about educational attainment. I’m talking about net worth. That’s why we launched Opportunity Hub in 2013.”
Rodney Sampson, CEO of Opportunity Hub, is addressing the diversity hiring gap.

A major focus of Opportunity Hub today is to digitize the platform. “We are building a supply-side of talent through our spaces, our events, our initiatives, and our coding scholarship programs. We’re at the precipice of productizing that in the form of a platform,” Sampson said.

Top technology companies pay Opportunity Hub to source and find diverse technology talent for them while the platform provides scholarships for students “to get fully immersed, connect with tech companies, and see what the innovation economy looks and feels like. We make the industry real for college students who are studying computer science and engineering.”

As the Summit co-directors outlined in their overview of platform trends: “Everywhere there can be a platform, there will be a platform.” Topcoder and Opportunity Hub are among those proving the point every day.