“Write the vision and make it plain” is a spiritual tenet that many of us who were raised in Black households live by. It is a lighthouse propelling us to live out our dreams without fear and in full authority of who we are called to be.
Each year an extraordinary group of Black women ascend into New York City with this same vision, armed with enterprising ideas and the vigor of creation by attending the Black Women Talk Tech Conference. It is the premiere event built by Black women for Black women in the tech space. Founders Esosa Ighodaro, Regina Gwynn, and Lauren Washington, revealed the conference expanded beyond their wildest dreams after hosting the first retreat in 2016, followed by the inaugural conference in 2017.
“When we first started Black Women Talk Tech, we didn’t start it to be a business, or a conference or anything,” Washington said. “We started it because we had this need to meet other founders and figure out how we can support each other and create these billion-dollar businesses,” Washington said.
“We didn’t know there was this much interest. And there’s so much interest not even just nationally, across the country, but internationally,” said Ighodaro.
On February 27-29, Ighodaro, Gwynn and Washington celebrated their fourth conference in New York City, a monumental feat considering the lack of diversity and inclusion in the ever-changing tech field. The women met in 2015 and chipped away at what was then a vision, creating a meeting space for Black women with big ideas.
But what’s important and critical about remembering the tech field is the wide range of industries which intersect within the space. The women attending and running Black Women Talk Tech are purveyors within a variety of fields related to beauty, public health, travel and technology.
Ighodaro is the founder of Nexstar, a platform helping content creators connect with Fortune 1000 companies to produce marketing campaigns. Washington founded Fundr, a platform that automates, diversifies and democratizes seed funding. Gwynn is the creator of TresseNoire, a hair care app dedicated to the specific needs of Black women.
Since 2017, the conference attendees swelled from 300 to over 1,000, including the expansion of chapter organizations in 10 local markets, and one in London. The four pillars of the conference are education, research, promotion and funding, using the tagline, “Roadmap To Billions.”
“Part of the reason why we want to say ‘Roadmap To Billions’ is because a lot of people don’t talk about money in that way, especially women,” Ighodaro said. “We wanted people to really know we’re being bold here and saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to have billion-dollar companies run by Black women.'”
“Part of the conference is specifically for Black women founders,” Washington said. “The first two days we have a retreat and then a founder’s day and we actually vet everyone who comes through that so that we know everyone’s on the same page and looking for the same type of content and connection, and then the summit is open to everyone.”
Unlike other events and spaces specifically held for Black communities, both Washington and Ighodaro say the conference has been warmly welcomed in the tech space. This year’s conference saw a variety of sponsors including Target, Nike, Microsoft and Goldman Sachs, as well as coveted speakers who forged new lanes in their respect fields like Courtney Adeleye, founder of The Mane Choice Hair Solution, Cara Sabin, CEO of Sundial Brands, and New York Congresswoman Yvette Clark.
“It is hard to find people who have taken a path that you want to take and it’s almost like you’re building it as you’re going. I think this new generation of women who are doing incredible are kind of creating it as they go along and that was one of the big reasons we started Black Women Talk Tech,” Washington continued.
This year the women were the most excited about implementing a self-care event on the 27th, where attendees enjoyed manicures, pedicures, massages, and absorbed wellness tips for the mind, body and spirit. But in totality, the expansion and continuous growth of the Black Women Talk Tech movement is what remains central to their vitality.
“We’ve seen so many great success stories not only just from our founders, but just the network that happens in between really smart people, like-minded, really motivated self-starters. It is incredible just to see how many people have gotten funding as a result of coming to the conference,” Ighodaro said.
Every Wednesday during the month of March, MadameNoire will highlight Black women changemakers in journalism/media, business, politics, advocacy and community organizing. Stay tuned for next week’s feature with Isha Sesay, the groundbreaking journalist who helped break the story at CNN on the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist organization Boko Haram in Nigeria.