The numbers still aren’t adding up for African-Americans in tech. A new study conducted by Lawless Research (on behalf of Techstars and Chase for Business) found that 72 percent of executives in the field believe diversity is important, but only 12 percent are actually supporting that value by employing five or more employees from diverse backgrounds. The same research revealed that only 1 percent of venture capitalists’ funds are allocated to Black start-up CEOs.
So what’s a Black techie to do? One route to consider is looking into federally funded supplier diversity programs, because they specifically offer funds to small business owners from underrepresented demographics. ConnXus, a Black-owned software company based in Mason, Ohio, understands the benefits of supplier diversity initiatives and its executives recently served as the official technology sponsor for the 2016 Minority Supplier Development Council United Kingdom Conference in London. The global affair boasted more than 600 delegates from Australia, Canada, China, South Africa, the Unite States and the United Kingdom.
“Our involvement in the conference drives growth for our business,” remarked Rod Robinson, ConnXus founder and CEO. “Through the relationships built there, we will expand our footprint in the global procurement market. It’s also given us the opportunity to ensure our diversity practices are inclusive of a global workforce.” To date, ConnXus has raised $10 million in investments, including participation from Techstars Ventures, Cincy Tech, Serious Change L.P., Impact America Fund, and several private angel investors. The Upload caught up with Robinson and ConnXus COO Daryl Hammett to talk about what’s next for their business.
EBONY.com: Tell us about the services your company offers.
Daryl Hammett: Any major corporation that is doing business with the government, whether it’s state, local or federal, is required to allocate a certain amount of what they spend on women-and-minority-owned businesses. A lot of the companies we deal with work with two certifications, the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council (NMSDC) and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Our company tracks the certifications that vetted these brands and manages the process for them by linking their accounts payable to our platform to track spending. We cleanse the data and determine the percentage of money spent on diverse businesses. We also created a supplier registration portal that enables diverse businesses to register with potential companies to win bids with that company.
EBONY.com: So you guys have basically created a dating app for the supplier diversity industry?
Rod Robinson: Yes, we sit in the middle and make the market more efficient. The buyers push their requests out to the platform, and the platform is intelligent enough to make the best match that fills those needs and vice versa.
EBONY.com: You recently received a $5 million investment. How will the capital injection help your business?
DH: We’re going to hire more key staff members, beef up security of our site and expand. We have to go back and make sure we’ve created a platform that’s built to last forever. Remember the book Good to Great? Well 11 of those 13 companies are now gone. So we’re focusing on infrastructure, documentation of our products, making sure we’re protected and our copyrights are all done. We want companies to know that we are compliant and ready to scale. We’re also involved in the thought leadership on supplier diversity. A lot of people don’t understand it or even know that it exists. We have a shortfall of minorities and women in tech, so we want to get out here and wave the flag that the government has the money to spend so people begin to create these types of businesses.
EBONY.com: What was this market like before you launched your company?
RR: At one time, I was a buyer of these services and had to go to various places to find suppliers and static databases because there was not a quality solution in this space. I had to rely on surveys to verify suppliers’ diversity status. There are 28 million companies in the United States, and minorities and women own half of them. When we looked at the companies that would have a demand for our services, we found that there are about 18,000 that are doing over $100B revenue. I always thought that if technology were being leveraged the right way, supplier diversity would be more inclusive. The companies that are the incumbents are doing a piece of what we do, but none are supplying this complete solution that we provide.
EBONY.com: How do you plan to sustain the business?
DH: For us to stay relevant, we believe that supplier diversity should be a true reflection of a sustainable supply chain model. We’re working on an Economic Impact Report. We want companies like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s to know what impact their dollars have on the local economy. Like because they used this company, they were able to put this many minorities to work or build this new building or improve that community.
RR: We think of it as big data for good.
EBONY.com: So you’re holding businesses accountable and you’re forecasting as well?
DH: Right. We want businesses to come to us and say what impact has my spend done for the economy how has it changed jobs. That’s when we see change happening at the higher ecosystem.
Lynne d Johnson has been writing about music since the early 1990s, tech since the late ’90s, and the intersection of technology and everything else since the early 2000s. She currently writes, teaches and consults companies on how to better engage with their audiences. Follow her on Twitter @lynneluvah.
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