All Articles Tagged "african americans tech"
Welcome to another profile of a dynamic African-American female in the tech space. I’ve got a special treat for you today that should touch many of the fans of this series. I recently had the opportunity to connect with a fellow tech colleague in the mobile space, Michelle Fisher. She is CEO and Founder of Blaze Mobile, a technology company that develops innovative mobile commerce, health care, banking and advertising solutions. The company’s product suite includes a mobile wallet, mobile advertising network and NFC-enabling payment stickers. Now, some might not understand what all that is just yet; but Michelle will certainly explain. And given that we African-Americans out-index in mobile usage and expenditures, I know you will find her profile and company of interest. Read on!
Current Occupation: CEO and founder of Blaze Mobile
Favorite website: www.blazemobile.com …of course! =)
2012′s ultimate goal: Blaze Mobile becomes the clear market leader for mobile wallets and mobile contact-less transactions including payment, ID, funds transfer, and more.
Quote that Inspires You: ”The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” – Dr. Martin Luther King
Twitter handle: @BlazeMobileNews
LdC: So I learned that you attended Stanford. No doubt it gave you a foundation for what you are doing today. What was it like attending that university?
MF: Igot my Master’s degree there and loved it. It was challenging intellectually. The professors, some of whom had Nobel Peace Prizes and were leaders in their field, were friendly and supportive.
LdC: I know that shortly after Stanford, you were offered a position at Microsoft. How did you obtain that position and what was it like?
MF: After launching Media Park at Pacific Bell, there was a lot of press coverage and I got a lot of job offers including one from Microsoft, which was a very challenging environment. A lot of smart people. A humbling environment. Exciting time to be at a company and work in a new part of the business – the Internet Group as it was being born and that was run like a start up . Microsoft gave me opportunity to try something new every year and learn how to develop commercial internet services on a global scale.
LdC: Fantastic. So from there, what were the series of events that led you to start Blaze Mobile?
MF: Afterleaving Microsoft, I took a year off to recharge. I knew I was ready tofinally start a company. I was at a small specialty retail store near my house. When I got to the check-out stand the cashier asked for my loyalty card, which would enable me to get a great discount. I didn’t have it with me since it was a store that I rarely shopped at. I didn’t have enough space to carry all of my loyalty cards, like most people unless you carry a backpack. I was literally hitting my pockets wishing I had the card with me on something I was already carrying like a credit card or my mobile phone. That’s when the light bulb went off and the idea came to me to develop software to enable me to not only track my loyalty points, but to pay for goods, check my account balance and more.
LdC: Talk to me a bit about how important patents are in this space and how your company uses them specifically?
MF: Extremely important. They level the playing field. Become a barrier to entry and source of revenue. Patents are a true asset.
LdC: So, what was it like raising money for your venture and what advice do you have for others?
MF: I raised money for my venture all from angel investors which include family, friends, former co-workers, classmates, colleagues, and complete strangers. My advice is to tap into your network for angel investors.
LdC: There aren’t a ton of Black women in exec positions in the mobile space right now. What are your suggestions for encouraging more women of color to get involved in the mobile space from a career stand point?
MF: Do it. I decided to work in corporate America first and hone my skills and save money. Then, I started my company, But, if you have a great idea and it does not cost a lot to start, I encourage you to go for it. The most important thing is to first file a patent for your idea before you share it with anyone else to protect it.
LdC: Michelle, have you ever felt that race and/or gender what a hurdle for you to cross? If so, how did you handle it?
MF: Yes,especially in raising money from venture capitalists. They are trained to fund in companies that they have invested in the past – pattern recognition. Since there are very few women and people of color that have been funded by VC’s, by definition we don’t fit the criteria for a company to invest in. Unfortunately, I have seen them invest money in intheir portfolio companies who fit the “pattern” and copy my ideas. So, I kept raising money from angel investors and continued to patent my ideas so that I would be protected.
LdC: Love this work with Media Park (a forward reaching broadband service that connected creative professionals in Hollywood, Silicon Valley and New York to digital content libraries.) How did you get involved in that?
MF: Iwas working at Pacific Bell at the time and selling executives at our largest companies on using telecommunications services to network branch offices and deliver value added services such as video over broadband. During the evening, I was taking classes on how to make multimedia CD-ROMs using a MAC. I made one for Motown that I got to pitch to them which was exciting. I found myself going to store every weekend to get things I needed like additional storage to encode video, clip art. Etc., It occurred to me that during my day job I was promoting networked service to transfer digital assets, but during the weekends, I was driving around in my car to get digital assets. It occurred to me that a network service could be used to provide me with access to all the digital assets and supplies I needed for multimedia production and that other creative professionals might benefit from it too. So, I pitched a senior executive at Pac Bell on the idea. She likedit and asked me to develop a business plan which I did. I presented it to her and the CFO and got $2M in funding to develop the idea.
LdC: You are no joke! What has response been to it?
MF: I ran it for a year and the response was overwhelming. As mentioned earlier, there was a lot of press coverage from the SF Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, etc. After I left and went to Microsoft, Pacific Bell couldn’t find anyone else to run it and they decided that their core competency was network services vs. content and value-added service so they didn’t continue it.
LdC: Wow, so after all this; what’s your greatest hope for the mobile arena for 2012?
MF: Mobile payment [industry] continues to grow.
That does it for this installment. Stay tuned for the next profile. Until then stay up on all the tech events and more by following me on Twitter @mediaempress.
by R. Asmerom
Are African-Americans opting out of tech careers? Dr. Maya A Beasley says yes. In her book, “Opting Out: Losing the Potential of America’s Young Black Elite,” The University of Connecticut assistant professor contends that self-segregation is discouraging African Americans from accessing the networks that lead to tech careers.
She drew upon 60 interviews with black and white college students at UC Berkeley and Stanford for her research. The impetus for the book stemmed from the fact that while she was a graduate student at Stanford, she noticed the lack of Black people in Silicon Valley overall although there was a relatively substantial amount of Black students at Stanford University. “I thought this was really odd because I went to college with really brilliant black students,” she told FINS. “And I knew that Stanford had a high proportion of black students so I was surprised to see such a disparity between what I saw on campus and what I saw on Main Street.” She wanted to understand how those students didn’t get filtered into the Silicon Valley infrastructure.
She noticed that some students were discouraged from STEM classes and that many others opted to hang out in exclusive cultural circles. “There’s a danger in completely segregating yourself,” Beasley told FINS. “When black students only interact with each other it really inhibits the information they’re getting. White students are getting advice from their parents and summer jobs through their connections. If you’re limiting the number of times you’re spending with white people, you’re also limiting the types of information you have available to you.”
In addition, Beasley notes that the composition of STEM courses (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math), which are dominated by a white and Asian males, also deters African-American involvement.
So what’s the solution? It seems that self-segregation will naturally take place but making a conscious effort to integrate and acknowledge the cultural dynamics surrounding Silicon Valley would help a Black student’s transition, if he or she desires, into the tech landscape.
Time for the third installment in my profile series on cool African-American females who are fellow colleagues with me in the tech space. The first two, as you may recall, hailed from the prominent hallways of Google and Microsoft. But lest you think we only exist in the corporate world, I’ve decided to focus the spotlight this time on a entrepreneur-to-watch who is the force behind an innovative start-up.
So lean in and ponder as Zuhairah Scott, Founder & CEO of Kahnoodle, a startup that helps busy couples build awesome relationships. According to the company’s description it is “the first mobile productivity tool for couples that provides a “relationship dashboard” which visually tracks how well each person is meeting the others’ needs and allows couples to set goals to improve/maintain their overall relationship.”
LdC: I’m particularly interested in profiling you because of your unique career background which is not necessarily typical to the digital space. But before we get into it, where are you from?
ZS: I was born in Newark, NJ and raised in Los Angeles, Ca. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley so my east coast family used to tease me for having a valley girl accent. Growing up in LA was fun. The biggest benefit was the weather and naturally warm disposition of Californians and the ethnic diversity of the valley. Growing up I had close friends from Korea, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and Mexico. So although I didn’t travel extensively until I went to college, I felt that I had a good appreciation for other cultures, their food, family values, etc.
LdC: And it obviously provided a great foundation. You went on to attend college at UCLA and from there to obtain a JD/MBA graduate at Harvard University. What lead you to pursue this particular joint-degree?
ZS: My personal mission is to leverage technology to profitably and substantively improve lives. I have always been very socially conscious and empathic to disenfranchised populations around the world. I am not one to sit on my hands. I like to solve BIG problems in innovative ways. I think there is lots that can and should be done via traditional routes as lawyers, politicians, teachers, and non-profits. What excites me most about technology is that it allows a whole new generation of problem solvers to tackle real issues in innovative, profitable and world-shaking ways. That’s what gets me fired up! I believe that is what I was put here to do and that is what I work on achieving every day. I knew that in order to do this work I not only needed a degree that would equip me with the skills to critically analyze and bring about social change, but I also needed to understand business.
The JD/MBA is something that looks very logical and methodically planned out on paper but my path to pursuing a joint degree was a bit more circuitous. First, I knew very early on that I wanted to go to Harvard for graduate school. Because I was a Political Science major, law school was the logical option. I applied to HLS and was fortunate enough to get in. However, between the time I graduated from undergrad and got accepted to HLS, I moved to New York and discovered Wall Street and began to become more and more interested in business and how it could be used to solve social problems. I knew I couldn’t turn down an offer to go to HLS so I enrolled and applied for the business school during my first year of law school.
That all being said, I do not believe that any of these degrees are pre-reqs for doing what I am doing. This was my path and I wouldn’t change it one bit. But there are several others.
Time for my next installment spotlighting women of color in the tech space. (For those who perhaps missed the first, be sure and click here for the profile on Google exec Bonita Stewart.) Today I had the opportunity to ask Phoebe Ash of Microsoft a variety of questions. I selected Microsoft because while we may think of the tech giant in many respects, brown faces might not spring to mind when mentioning the brand. But they do exist, and it’s important that their work be recognized.
Ash is a Senior Software Design Engineer in Test for Microsoft. Use Outlook to email friends about the latest must-have hip hop track? Launch Internet Explorer to research elements for your company or small business? Then you have touched some of Ash’s work. But there’s much more to it than that, so read on while we go inside the mind behind one of Microsoft’s prominent women:
LdC: I always like to start off back in the day a bit and focus on education. I read that you attended the legendary Tuskegee?
PA: Attending Tuskegee University was almost like a dream. It was a great experience that helped me to realize I could be what I set my mind out to be. I learned right away how to sacrifice and how to work hard to reach my goals. I built strong networks, and made lifelong friends within my major, my sorority (Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.) and connections just by attending this great university. I learned several lifelong lessons there and I think the most important lesson was about diversity. I learned while at Tuskegee that although we are all the same race, we come from many different backgrounds or have different interests and we may differentiate ourselves based on, i.e. your financial status, where you are from (East Coast, West Coast, Midwest or down South), your affiliations with sororities or fraternities and the like. This helped to prepare me for my career at Microsoft and to appreciate the differences in everyone.
LdC: And it seems that a work study program in which you participated while attending there was key to building your foundation in tech. But what made you actually accept that work study program when computers were not really initially on your radar as a political science major?
PA: I accepted the work study position because I thought that it would be good to learn more about computers and gain real job training. Little did I know that this would lead me down the path to my career.
LdC: So now that you’re fully entrenched in that career, what would you say is the most challenging part of your job at Microsoft?
PA: The cool thing about my job is that there are many challenging aspects, from learning new technologies, to solving a complex problem, to working with partner teams, to career planning for my direct reports. I love that there is never a dull moment and I am constantly learning.
LdC: It often seems that tech companies, particularly start-ups, try to take the color-blind approach – not wanting to talk about the diverse ratio of their staffs, etc – yet are achingly non-diverse. What are your suggestions for helping to create greater sensitivity in this industry to which, for example, the automotive, consumer packaged goods industries, etc are already a bit more sensitive?
PA: I can only speak from my experience and I think that Microsoft is sensitive in their hiring. We do a great job at searching, and looking for diverse candidates.
LdC: What advice then might you have for African-Americans pursuing tech positions (or to encourage them to pursue tech positions). Why do you find your position rewarding, for example?
PA: Experiment with technology! This is the way that I got into this field because I was passionate about technology and I was curious about what I could create. This led me to my true calling. This is a great time to experiment with technology; you can build web applications, games or mobile apps just for fun. If you are in college, take the Intro to Computer Science class, just to see if it interests you. You just may love it.
I didn’t follow a traditional path, however, I found my passion. I love what I do and I love the fact that the Microsoft culture is about continuous learning.
There’s no argument that there are a lack of minority entrepreneurs that are engaging in the “startup culture” Even if the above argument can be debated, you can’t deny the fact that while there may be a number of successful minority entrepreneurs that are engaging in the “startup culture”, you may never know it due to the lack of funding and/or publicity they receive from the mainstream startup community.
Angela Benton, Wayne Sutton, and Toby Morning have teamed up to tackle both issues (opportunity and visibility) for minority startups with their joint venture, the NewMe Accelerator program: A nine-week “startup camp” that gives participants assistance with ideas and development, access to leaders and possible mentors, and exposure to the Silicon Valley startup culture.
Over the previous several weeks, NewMe put out a request for minority startups to submit their ideas (regardless of whether or not it was just an idea, in development, or an actual product). As a result, 12 startups were selected and the invitation was extended to spend nine weeks in Silicon Valley (lodging, local transportation, and other accommodations provided by the program) to attend small workshops and sessions, and to network with leaders in the technology startup industry.
In addition to gaining insight into the industry and “rubbing elbows”, the participants are encouraged to fine-tune their ideas/products and find-tune their “pitch” as they move towards “Demo Day” – an opportunity to present their startup in front of an even larger group of technology companies, venture capitalists, and influential members in the tech industry. A very possible outcome could be that one or several of these startups may raise enough eyebrows to receive additional mentoring, or even funding from some of the guests and sponsors invited by NewMe to witness the drive, ingenuity, and talent that minority entrepreneurs have to offer the startup community.
Speaking of which, the clout that the three founders have in their own professions have enabled them to round up a nice list of guests that will support, and cheer on, and possibly sponsor and fund the participants. Some of the leaders, speakers, guests, and sponsors include: Google, Justin.tv, Kapor Capital, Tristan Walker, Business Development lead at Foursquare, MC Hammer (yeah, you heard me correctly), and other venture capitalist looking to invest in the future. Several media outlets will also be in attendance to cover NewMe in hopes to further shine the light on minority talent looking to turn their ideals into a viable, and profitable product.
For more information and updates, visit the NewMe Accelerator website or follow the Twitter handle @NewMeAccel.