The Town of Normal has announced a strategic alliance with Microsoft with a focus on digital literacy, entrepreneurship, and youth engagement with STEM subjects. As part of the digital alliance, the town, along with Microsoft, has agreed to support the promotion and establishment of initiatives that focus on STEM education and economic development in the Twin Cities and Central Illinois.
"Microsoft is excited to partner with the Town of Normal to provide increased access to digital literacy tools, STEM education and to support economic development for the Greater Bloomington-Normal area," said Microsoft Public Affairs and Citizenship Director Raamel Mitchell. "Our hope is that this digital alliance will encourage the community to use these resources as a way to grow personally and professionally."
Derick Downey is an entrepreneur and arts technology professor at Illinois State University. Downey said he hopes the partnership can show students tools are ready to help them pursue bigger dreams.
"Bringing Microsoft into the town can only make it more appealing to potential start-up founders or businessmen and women," said Downey.
Downey also said it is very exciting for residents to have access to Microsoft's curriculum and the Imagine Academy program.
Normal Mayor Chris Koos stressed that this new alliance is wholly consistent with the Town's commitment to economic development through grassroots initiatives.
"This digital alliance with Microsoft will help provide both youths and adults in our community with access to the tools they need to join or rejoin our local workforce," Koos said. "It should also be particularly encouraging to entrepreneurs who wish to plant the seeds of their new businesses in an exciting and technology-fertile community."
Local investors have already contributed a total of $335,000 to a local start-up business called internrocket.com. The social network helps people connect with micro-internship opportunities. Internrocket.com Chief Technology Officer Cody Sherman said innovators can definitely benefit from free access to Microsoft's programs.
"I'm already thinking in my head if it is going to be cheaper if we switch over to Microsoft stuff because we're already paying a lot of our fees for servers every month. They are promising it for free! Why not take advantage of something like that," said Sherman.
The alliance will also promote stem education through screenings of the documentary Big Dream that follows the stories of seven young women who are breaking barriers and overcoming personal challenges to follow their passions in STEM fields. Microsoft will align with the town to host future events featuring notable entrepreneurs and STEM speakers.