The concept of corporate citizenship has become a common theme among many businesses in today’s work world. As companies look to become more involved, as they seek to expand their goals from profitability to broader social responsibility, a greater emphasis is now being placed on improving the lives of those living within their communities.
However, while it is common to find organizations that emphasize philanthropy, it is rare to find one that aligns its outreach behind initiatives designed to not only offer immediate assistance, but to build a better tomorrow for the local community. One such organization is Houston-based alliantgroup.
We recently sat down with alliantgroup CEO Dhaval Jadav to discuss the firm’s philanthropic outreach and it various initiatives centered on the promotion of science, technology, engineering and math, orSTEM, education. STEM education.
Ann Scott: Tell us a little bit about yourself? What motivated you to create alliantgroup?
Dhaval Jadav: Prior to co-founding alliantgroup, I worked at Deloitte & Touche in the firm’s Washington national office and was later a member of a mergers and acquisitions/private equity firm in San Francisco. I served as a consultant for businesses in both positions and worked with a number of innovative Silicon Valley technology companies in the latter role.
It was during this time that I became aware of the sheer volume of small and mid-size businesses that were not claiming the powerful credits and incentives put in place by our government for their benefit. While the Fortune 1000 claim every government incentive they are entitled to, small and mid-size businesses (which often lack the awareness of or the resources to claim these incentives) were by and large leaving substantial value on the table each year. Looking at this from a macro perspective, this a development that in the long run would put many of these innovative companies at a competitive disadvantage, and by extension, make the U.S. economy less competitive on a global scale.
A large portion of the R&D (research and development) that occurs in the U.S. happens at the small and medium-size business level. With so much innovation occurring within this business demographic, it is absolutely critical that we as a nation support SMBs in their efforts to grow and remain innovative. I started alliantgroup to educate these companies on the powerful credits and incentives that are equally available to them and the Fortune 1000. However, while Fortune 1000 companies have numerous advisors that are keeping them informed on the powerful government-sponsored incentives that exist for their benefit, sub-Fortune 1000 businesses are not being properly educated as to how they can qualify for these same incentives.
These companies have the potential to become the next Apple, Google, Microsoft, Intel, Dell, etc. However, if we don’t educate these businesses on the incentives that our government has put in place to help them thrive and compete against foreign competition and retain STEM labor in the United States, there is a strong chance that these SMBs/new technologies will thrive and grow in another country and take thousands upon thousands of high-paying technical jobs with them!
This was basically my motivation behind creating alliantgroup – to help small and mid-size businesses claim these incentives that reward companies for pursuing innovation and for keeping high-paying technical jobs here in the U.S.
Ann Scott: Over the past few years your firm has invested in a number of community outreach initiatives designed to promote STEM education. Why is STEM such a passion of yours? Why has the firm based much of its philanthropic work around STEM?
Dhaval Jadav: It relates back to our mission as a company. The additional value that these incentives provide allows our clients to hire additional technical talent and grow their businesses. However, while our services give businesses the ability to be more competitive in attracting technical talent, what we have learned from talking with so many business owners is this ultimately does not address the supply side of the equation when it comes to finding the needed STEM professionals.
In my prior positions and later as alliantgroup’s CEO, I experienced firsthand the growing technical skills gap and its long-term consequences for the economy and American workers. The rapid advancement and adoption of technology has transformed the economy into a tech-based and service-based economy – and our workforce at the moment is largely unprepared for this transition, with much of the labor pool lacking the strong foundation in STEM that will be needed to standout in tomorrow’s labor market.
Over the years I have had many discussions with executives and business leaders across a range of industries, and whenever I ask them what is the No. 1 issue that keeps them up at night, they always say it is finding and retaining technical talent – and the statistics bear this out. According to Ranstad North America, as of 2016 the U.S. had roughly 3 million more STEM jobs than it had workers to fill those positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the economy will need as many as 100,000 new information technology workers per year over the next decade, yet only about 60,000 of these workers enter the labor force each year.
If you look at the numbers for Houston, there is a similar trend with regard to STEM vacancies. In a recent study by WalletHub of the 100 large metropolitan areas in the U.S., the Houston metropolitan area was ranked first in terms of annual median wage for STEM workers at $95,187 – but other statistics show that local residents are not taking advantage of these opportunities. A Brookings Institution report estimated that 43.8% of the area’s job opening were in STEM fields, while a survey taken back in 2015 of area CIOs noted that 22% of them expected to hire new positions within their information technology departments and 70% planned to fill position that were already open.
Given these vacancies, we knew that if we wanted to address the skills gap and give back to the local community, promoting STEM education and STEM initiatives on the local level made a ton of sense. STEM jobs are some of the highest paying opportunities around – and I can’t think of a better way to make a real difference in the lives of our residents than in paving the way for a successful career.
Ann Scott: Tell us more about the Blue Heart Fund and alliantgroup’s work in the community?
Dhaval Jadav: The Blue Heart Fund is alliantgroup’s nonprofit charity that was created shortly after Hurricane Harvey to offer financial assistance to our professionals and clients that were dealing with the devastating effects of the storm. Since then, we’ve pivoted to using the fund as a means to give back to the community and promote STEM education. Through the Blue Heart Fund, our firm has handed out a number of scholarships to students that have committed to pursuing a career in STEM. In 2018 alone, our firm gifted a total of $240,000 in STEM scholarships nationwide, with $30,000 going to Houston-area students.
In addition to scholarships, we have also made other long-term investments for students in the local community through the Blue Heart Fund. We’ve sponsored a $10,000 grant for a Bellaire High School post-Harvey water quality study. We’ve partnered with Comp-U-Dopt to donate retired company laptops to local students. Most recently, we’ve partnered with HISD to build a STEM lab for Forest Brook Middle School for the benefit of the area’s underserved students. This a project that I am extremely proud of as it will serve to level the playing field and give students who normally are at a disadvantage the ability to hone their STEM skills.
Aside from these long-term investments, our firm has hosted a number of events designed to promote STEM education and interest in STEM careers. We’ve taken elementary students on field trips to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and Space Center Houston. We’ve sponsored a Build-A-Bike charity event and a National Robotics League Competition.
In my discussions with our clients and our association partnerships, they always emphasize the need to introduce students to STEM and spark their interest at a younger age – and I can’t think of a better way to do this than these hands-on experiences that show the depth and diversity of STEM and its application in our everyday lives.
Ann Scott: What has been the most rewarding project or initiative that you've partnered with HISD for?
Dhaval Jadav: Definitely the field trips. Our people chaperone the kids on the field trips to the natural science museum and the space center each year. For many of these students, it is their first exposure to a new world and it is so incredibly rewarding to see their excitement over each exhibit.
A lot of our clients are in STEM-based industries, and as a result, we do have a number of STEM professionals on our staff. Seeing them interact with the kids and share their passion for STEM, knowing that a similar experience sparked our professionals’ interest in STEM and seeing them pass that down to the kids that will start their own journey through the field – that is what warms my heart and gets me excited for the future.