Through networking events and collaborations, Newark entrepreneurs of color are leveraging technology to create opportunity within the city’s African-American community.
According to Bruno Tedeschi of Skyway Strategies, only one percent of all venture capital money is going to African American founders for start up companies in Newark. But he said local entrepreneurs are “leading an effort” to change that. “The goal is to create jobs for Newark residents in the high-tech sector,” Tedeschi said. “We want to not only build up the high tech ecosystem in Newark, but to also change the face of the tech sector.”
Those behind the initiative include Anthony Frasier of TheKoalition.com and The Phat Startup; Steve Royster of New Jersey Economic Development Authority and Lean Startup Machine; Emily Manz of Brick City Development Corporation; and Jimi Olaghere of Geek Cook USA.
As part of their efforts, the group organized Newark Tech Week, an event that featured panel discussions, social networking events and teach-in’s. Entrepreneurs and business leaders alike came out to support, including Chuck Creekmur of AllHipHop.com and school’s and organizations like Rutgers, New Jersey Institute for Technology, and STEM.
The point, said Frasier, was to show entrepreneurs from different walks of life how to “start their journey.”
“We wanted to offer up and coming entrepreneurs the opportunity to speak with someone like Chuck Creekmur, who has built his own business. And it was great. We did a chat for about an hour followed by a Q&A and it gave participants an idea of how to start their individual businesses,” he said.
Manz, who is the associate of real estate and business attraction at the BDCC, said both tech weeks, which took place in April and November, were born out of the need to foster an “energetic young tech sector.”
“Tech week came out of a desire to have all tech activity happen at one time in one location and we also wanted to highlight what’s really going on in the tech center in and around Newark,” Manz said. “Another component and goal is to help our population find jobs and help them enter this new growing economy. We want people from our community, who are African American, to be involved in this sector.”
While the tech weeks will continue to run several times a year, Frasier and Olaghere feature monthly meetings with their organization Brick City Tech. The group, which is currently composed of 700 tech entrepreneurs, also partners with NJIT and Rutgers to draw in students from the area.
“We want to educate Newarkers with technology in its basic form. We recruit industry leaders to come to Newark and educate the growing community,” Olagere said. “We believe technology will enable us to catch up with powerhouse cities like New York and San Francisco.”
Frasier, who has been featured on CNN’s Black in America, agreed and said the overall goal of Newark Tech Week and Brick City Tech is for “entrepreneurs to walk away inspired and ready to create.”
“A lot of entrepreneurs look at the Newark tech industry and are intimidated and think the barrier of entry is high,” Frasier said. “We want them to come to our meetings and attend our events and believe that they can do this – not tomorrow – but today.”
Royster, who is a senior venture officer, spends much of his time developing later stage tech companies and holds intensive workshops to teach aspiring entrepreneurs how to build innovative products. He said teaching others how to innovate and validate ideas will not only strengthen the community, but will also set Newark up for success in the future.
“Newark is going to grow and we hope the culture will skew towards creating more African American entrepreneurs. There is a lot of opportunity that the Newark community hasn’t fully grasped yet,” he said. “It’s not about being the next Brooklyn, it’s just going to be what it is. We have people here who are committed and the more events we get off the ground like Tech Week, the more people we will bring into our city that want to be a part of what we are doing.”