It’s no secret that techies love ping pong, but those in Chicago’s startup community will soon get the chance to play table tennis together for more than just fun.
T4Youth is an annual ping pong tournament that brings Chicago’s top tech companies together and raises money for the Chicago Tech Academy, or ChiTech, a nonprofit high school that teaches STEM concepts to minority and low-income students. The amount of funds T4Youth raised has increased year over year, from $50,000 in 2014 to over $100,000 last year.
Now in its fourth year, T4Youth expects to involve 48 teams and hundreds of attendees with a goal of raising $175,000 in the team building, networking and fundraising night out. Each team will make a donation of $1,000 to play with nine companies paying additional money to sponsor the event so far.
The tournament will use a round-robin and playoff format for singles and doubles players with another “C” league for tech executives to compete in. A new section of Rubix Cube competition will be added this year.
Ryan Pollock, founder of tech recruiting firm Objective Paradigm and co-founder of T4Youth, first started this competition four years ago with hopes of involving the tech community and supporting charitable efforts in Chicago.
Pollock said he chose ChiTech as the beneficiary of T4Youth because it could fuel the growth of the Chicago tech community by strengthening the future talent pipeline.
“[Kids] not only need the funds but need the biggest type of impact,” Pollock said. “It’s an opportunity for students to really get exposure to individuals who have an absolutely fantastic career within the tech environment.”
Chicago Tech Academy was founded in 2009 to teach skills valued by the booming technology sector to a diverse group of minorities through real-world learning and a project-based curriculum. It has 300 students from 38 different Chicago ZIP codes currently enrolled, while more than 90 percent of them qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and 14 percent are counted as homeless.
Lance Russell, CEO of Chicago Tech Academy, said the funds raised through the event help the school tremendously in terms of supporting daily operations and hiring support staff such as counselors. The money also helps run after-school programs and professional development programs, such as “Power Lunch” speaker series, which brings Chicago tech community members in to tell their stories to students.
“It creates a lot of awareness for the school,” Russell said. “We’ve seen a lot of participants come back to the school to be mentors or volunteers.”
Russel said the event is also set to connect kids with the professional world, as they get the chance to interact with the tech community.
“Getting the chance to meet those people really makes a difference,” said Javontay Peoples, a senior at ChiTech, who has been part of the event since his freshman year. “I feel like that it is very valuable to someone at my age to have contact with someone in the industry that I want to go into.”
Companies join the tournament for the dual goals of team building and giving back to the community.
“We are working actively to support tech education and entrepreneur education,” said Seth Thomson, chief information officer of DRW. “And it’s nice to bring tech companies together along with the common passion for table tennis.”
DRW won in the tournament’s first year and has been the leading sponsor since last year.
“It was a lot of fun and the competition was intense,” said Thomson. “We expect to get back to the top this year.”
The tournament will be held on Nov. 15 at SPiN Chicago (344 N State St.) starting at 4:30 p.m. The cost is $1,000 per team. The winner this year will get a custom pingpong table and a Cubs outing for 15 people.