All Articles Tagged "black silicon valley"
In Silicon Valley, black faces can be hard to spot in the pool of entrepreneurs. And the African-Americans that do make attempts at starting innovative business often encounter lack of funding. It’s what entrepreneur turned venture capitalist Mitch Kapor calls “mirror-toracy.” He tells The Bay Citizen that business professionals tend to finance people who look and act like them as they fit their image of success. African American aspiring entrepreneurs are left out, and desperately need the resources and financial backing to get them started. That’s one reason why Angela Benton founded the New Media Entrepreneurship Accelerator, (NewME).
Benton, previously based in Charlotte, NC, realized the disparity in African American entrepreneurs when she took a visit to the Google Headquarters. She held a mixer for black entrepreneurs and was amazed when 100 people showed up, excited to meet other like-minded individuals. Although a report from CB Insights, a venture capital information database, observed that less than one percent of the venture capital-backed tech companies in California were started by blacks, the desire and the people were there.
Benton realized that there was a need for a community to support black entrepreneurs, but no one had thought to create it. These future business leaders simply needed an incubator and a community to nurture their business ventures.
Similar to other incubator programs, NewME provides resources and networking opportunities to potential business owners. In its first workshop held last summer, NewMe had eight participants, three of which are now starting up business in Silicon Valley. Two others are looking to start their business elsewhere.
“We need 10 NewMEs,” Chad Womack, a co-founder of the America 21 Project, said to an audience of black professionals in San Francisco. “We need to clone Angela and spread her around the country, if we can.”
America 21 works to encourage African Americans to take on technology business as a way to earn wealth. The non-profit groups plans to create opportunities for inner city youth with the help of the White House and hopefully initiaitves such as NewME.
Benton said she is now planning to hold a 12-week follow-up program in the spring. This time, the requirements for participants will be a bit stiffer and more in line with other incubator programs. All must commit to giving NewME four percent of the company’s equity.
In the past year, the lack of African-Americans in Silicon Valley has been well-documented. But no one needs a report or study to really understand how much Blacks are lacking in the behind-the-scenes action of the tech space. It’s a deficiency of sorts that doesn’t make sense considering our capacities to tap into the market.
The experience of Kiratiana Freelon, editor for BlackAtlas.com and author of “Kiratiana’s Travel Guide to Black Paris,” may very well reflect the perceptions that deter greater African-American involvement. “Even though I had gone to Harvard, attended the same colleges as these tech superstars [like] Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, I never in my life thought that I could apply my ideas to technology and create something until last year.”
The life changing moment for Freelon came at the SXSW 2010 festival, where she witnessed a pitch event involving a myriad of enterpreneurs who had built web apps and tech companies.
“It made me [ask myself] ‘why am I not considering starting a tech company as well?” she said. “I was always thinking of myself as a blogger, a video blogger or a social media enthusiast. It made me realize that all that tech people were doing were solving problems. Although I didn’t have the tech abilities to code a problem, I still could partner with a tech person to develop an idea that solves a problem and helps people.”
Not only did the experience change Freelon’s approach to her own media career but also ignited her passion to encourage more African-American to pursue tech entrepreneurship as she witnessed the dearth of Black figures representing in tech. With that, her “100% Viable, 1% Visible” project was born. She presented her findings about the lack of African-American participation in Silicon Valley and the opportunities for improving participation at the most recent SXSW festival.
She extrapolated on a 2010 study conducted by MIT MBA student Allen T. Lamb which researched why African-American led companies were so far behind that of its white and Asian-led counterparts. Among other things, the study showed that African-American headed companies are underfunded from the start and many African-American entrepreneurs live outside of tech centers.
“There’s not enough minorities in the Slicon Valley ecosystem – the people who are funding the companies don’t get to know African-Americans personally,” said Freelon. “If you are going to play with the big dogs, you gotta live there, be [amongst] them.”
Ahead of President Obama’s Thursday night dinner with CEOs from top tech companies including Google and Apple, minority groups in Silicon Valley picketed Google’s headquarters, asking them and other Vally tech companies to disclose their workplace diversity data.
The Oakland Tribune reports that the protest was organized by the Black Economic Council, the Latino Business Chamber of Greater Los Angeles and the National Asian American Coalition, based on a series of investigative reports in the Mercury News last year. Two dozen people staked out the Googleplex to criticize companies that refused to share their workforce diversity data. The Tribune says the leaders called on the federal government to review the H-1B work visa program that tech companies use to hire engineers from abroad, unless the companies comply.
The agenda for the meeting has been kept under tight wraps by the White House, but it is less than likely that the protested lack of diversity came up among the president and the guests that represent the top percentage of wealth in the country. Some of the attendees were Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix; John Hennessy, president of Stanford University; Steve Jobs, chairman and CEO of Apple; Eric Schmidt, chairman and CEO of Google; and Mark Zuckerberg, president and CEO of Facebook.
By Sonya Kimble-Ellis
It’s no secret that Silicon Valley lacks diversity. Caucasian males constitute many of the engineers, venture capitalists and start-up founders in this technological hot-bed of innovation. According to a recent report by Mercury News, Hispanics and blacks compose a smaller share of the valley’s computer workers in 2008 than they did in 2000. Despite the statistics, however, there are still a handful of African-Americans making their mark in the techie capital of the world. Here, we highlight the contributions of four such innovators.
Dr. Mark E. Dean
Dr. Mark E. Dean is heralded as one of the most influential engineers and inventors in America. His contribution to the development and enhancement to personal computers won him an induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. An IBM Fellow, Dean has worked at the company since 1980 and holds three of their nine PC patents. “I’m crazy about technology,” he said. “I have a vivid imagination. To me, anything you can imagine is possible. I’m not afraid to try.”
He is currently the VP of IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California as well as their Senior Location Executive for Silicon Valley, his track record speaks for itself. While at the company, Dean led the team that built a gigahertz chip, which did a billion calculations per second. His other developments enabled computers to communicate with external devices like printers, disc drives, keyboards, modems and speakers.
The innovations are known as the Industry Standard Architecture (ISA). As chief engineer, he spearheaded a project that allowed computers to be compatible with high-performance software. Dean also worked on IBM’s ground-breaking E-Tablet, a hand-held device with the same capabilities as a desktop. He presently oversees more than 400 IBM engineers and scientists.