Earlier this month in Miami, Diddy and his still-new Revolt network held the first annual Revolt TV Music Conference, a weekend of talks and panels with some of the music industry’s key artists, producers, songwriters, managers, entrepreneurs, and record executives. During the conference, Revolt TV partnered with start-up accelerator NewMe to host an Idea Lab, a series of mentorship sessions and a competition where entrepreneurs had the opportunity to pitch their ideas for the opportunity to win a $45K prize pack from NewMe technology partners.
We caught up with Angela Benton, the CEO and founder of NewMe. Since NewME began in June 2011, Benton has helped Black tech start-ups and other companies raise earn nearly $16.9 million in funding. Benton talked about the purpose of NewMe, how the platform has helped Black tech businesses translate “cool ideas into cool businesses," and why it is important to get more Black faces into Silicon Valley.
EBONY: What is NewME doing at the Revolt TV Music Conference?
Angela Benton: We are at the Revolt Music Conference doing an Idea Lab, which is essentially a series of talks around entrepreneurship and we’re doing it to support entrepreneurs at whatever stage they’re at. Registrants not only get to attend the idea lab in person, but they also get access to our platform and get weekly mentorship for 30 days and they also can get one –on-one feedback. We select the 10 best pitches, and they pitch to a panel of judges.
EBONY: What kind of start-ups did the Idea Lab participants pitch?
AB: A lot of start-ups are focused on music, but we have some that aren’t. We had a company submit a pitch and their working on a solar company. It’s more so about innovation. We’re witnessing a convergence of industries right now in technology. You see a lot of overlap with technology and entertainment, movies, music, finance, and other different industries. The world we live in is changing. Technology is infused in almost every part of our life. That’s what the idea lab is about. If someone has an idea, we want to hear about it. And hopefully we can help turn it into something bigger.
EBONY: Outside of the conference, what has NewMe been doing to help entrepreneurs turn their ideas into income?
AB: The platform has been launched since January. It’s going really well. It’s probably the easiest way for us to work with entrepreneurs who aren’t necessarily ready to come to Silicon Valley yet. One of the things we did last year was a sort of pop-up tour at accelerators. We went to 10 cities. What we noticed is entrepreneurs are at a very early stage. They talk about raising money, but they’re really at the idea stage, so the platform allows for any entrepreneur to develop their ideas.
EBONY: Do you see any parallels between trying to make it in the music industry and being successful in IT as an entrepreneur?
AB: I think the creative process is similar to the creative process for entrepreneurs and technology. There’s a ton of collaboration in music; you have the artist, other musicians, producers, all these different players that are overlapping. It’s the same thing when you’re developing a technology product. You can’t do it on your own. You’ll have someone on the business side, someone who specializes in marketing, someone who actually develops the app. There are all of these different players that are important to making a business successful.
EBONY: How does the NewMe accelerator help close the digital divide for minority communities?
AB: Well, we’re based in San Francisco, and it’s very much in a bubble. What’s interesting is when we started doing the pop-up accelerators, and we try to go to areas outside of Silicon Valley, not everyone knows what an accelerator is. What we ended up doing is dialing it back to “you have an idea”. Because everyone can have an idea, whether it’s an app, a company, whatever it is. It can be something as small as having an online boutique. It’s really about giving people access to what they need, so when they think they have an idea for something, they know how to give birth to it. That’s where the disconnect is right now. People don’t know where to go, there’s not a step-by-step process. And especially if you’re looking for funding, most folks from minority communities can’t go to our mom and be like “I have this idea…can I have $25,000?” No, that’s not happening. And that’s where we come in. We work with really great entrepreneurs who have a ton of great ideas, and because many of them are minorities companies, they’re solving problems you don’t normally see in Silicon Valley. It’s this pool of talent that’s not being tapped.
EBONY: How to try maintain that balance of creating things that make a connection between people, but also doesn’t have us deeper in the digital rabbit hole?
AB: We actually advise that people go out and talk to their would-be customers, instead of just doing things online. It’s so easy to just do everything online, and just be in your phone instead of just actually having a conversation. Especially when you’re trying to evaluate if your idea is actually a business, meaning “is this idea good enough that someone is willing to pay me money for it?” The best way to find out is to go out and talk to people.
EBONY: With the advent of social media platforms and popularity of #BlackTwitter, the Black community is becoming more and more connected in the digital space. Do you have any innovations in NewMe that specifically target Black people?
AB: We get a lot of businesses targeting the Black community. For example, we work with a company that develops products that are hard to reach markets and one of their core markets is inmates. That definitely affects the Black community. In prison, it’s a very analog world, though out here, everything’s digital. So how do you get those pictures to an inmate? Their app lets you do it right there from your phone. That’s just one example. We tend to get ideas that target the African American community, but not necessarily exclusively.
EBONY: Why is it important for tech companies and start-ups to target the Black community?
AB: The biggest demographic on Twitter is Black women. They are the highest user base. However, when you look at Twitter’s corporate board, there’s no representation there. When you look at even who just works at the company, there’s no representation there. So there’s this issue in the technology community of not having minorities represented in the workforce, but also in creating businesses. But part of the problem now, people are simply pattern matching like “oh we want this kind of candidate that when to this school”. Well, if you’re only recruiting in this school, you’re only gonna get a certain type of candidate. The great thing about promoting entrepreneurship and getting people to take their ideas to the next level is most likely they are going to hire people similar to them.
EBONY: A young boy or girl from the South Side of Chicago has an idea for an app. What advice would you give them?
AB: The first thing I would tell them is to join NewMe. They can have access to the same models, same mentors in Silicon Valley every week. I would tell them that the biggest myth about running a technology company is that you have to know how to code. You need to know how to be resourceful and find someone that can build something for you. That’s not say that you can be totally ignorant; you need to be quasi-technical so that someone doesn’t get over on you. If you want to launch something in a more immediate fashion, you can recruit somebody to do that. And I would also tell them that their idea doesn’t have a start date and end date. When you’re working on something, it’s all the time.