It’s no secret that diversity in the tech sector is abysmally low. In fact, the Congressional Black Caucus recently visited Silicon Valley to urge high tech companies to do a better job at inclusion. Likewise, at the White House’s recent Demo Day, the President, along with tech companies and venture capital firms, made a commitment to advance diversity in tech.
Having underrepresented groups—like women, Blacks, Latinos and the LGBT community—join the ranks of top companies like Google, Apple and Facebook is a step in the right direction. But the fact still remains that, as of 2010, only 1 percent of tech startups founded by Blacks were backed by venture capitalists, and only 8 percent were women led. And according to a more recent report by Policy Bridge, minorities only account for about 4 percent of businesses in technology-based growth industries in total.
One could argue that it’s the old boys’ network at play, where White males are only backing companies led by other White males. But there’s even more than that going on. It starts with exposure to tech in early education and access to the innovation ecosystem, along with the tools and connections that make success in the high-tech world possible. Here are six companies hoping to change all of that.
The creation of Christian Anderson, Kristina Omari and Wayne Sutton, BuildUP is a soon-to-launch accelerator focused on inclusion, education and access for anyone looking to start the next great tech company. The intensive two-week program is designed to educate and mentor underrepresented tech founders, like women, veterans and minorities. The organization seeks startups that have a focus in four areas: global impact, innovation, design and growth. Entrepreneurs selected to enter the program will get free desk space in San Francisco, mentorship, and meetings with investors and other experts.
In its inaugural year, Startup52 is an innovation suite (accelerator and boot camps) focused on discovering and grooming tech talent from under-tapped communities, such as minorities, women, veterans, seniors, LGBTQ, with disability, new immigrants, Africans in diaspora and entrepreneurs from emerging markets. With a mission to increase diversity in startup spaces, the organization’s founder, Chike Ukaegbu, wants his programs participants to identify global problems, share ideas, find solutions and launch successful enterprises. Corporate and civic partners such as Microsoft and IBM, and the New York City Mayor’s Office of Innovation and Technology are committed to providing free and subsidized resources to help the startups in the accelerator program succeed.
Entrepreneurs in the program are eligible for up to $10,000 in interest free loans from Kiva Zip. Startups also have access to over 400 New York City-based mentors and nearly 10,000 nationwide mentors, and there’s $120K in free cloud services. The accelerator is a six-to-10-week intensive program, while TenZeroEight boot camps are 1,008 hours in six weeks. Boot camps focus on skills necessary for startup, coding, animation, design, gaming or multimedia. There’s also an eight-week fellowship program available for boot camp alumni to work with a mentor and build upon a project.
A little bit Lean Startup and a little bit hip-hop, the Phat Startup seeks to empower the millennial generation to become tech entrepreneurs through tried and true hip-hop principles like grind and hustle. Much like hip-hop, the philosophy behind the Phat Startup is to build, measure and learn. You build a minimum version of something (also known as the Minimum Viable Product), learn from that, build upon it and repeat.
Starting with a blog that provided education, the founders James Lopez and Anthony Frasier moved into producing more content, such as resource guides and interviews with industry insiders. The Phat Startup also hosts monthly speaker events with the top honchos in tech, like Reddit founder and serial investor Alexis Ohanian, VaynerMedia founder and social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk, and Ben Horowitz (a.k.a. Nas’s bestie), co-founder and general partner of the venture capital fund, Andreessen Horowitz.
The company recently launched a conference platform, Tech808 (like the TR-808 drum machine in hip-hop music production), a six-hour entrepreneurship seminar set to launch in three cities to teach attendees how to raise money, network and set goals.
In 2012, former epidemiologist Kathryn Finney founded DigitalunDivided, the company behind the FOCUS100 technology conference that brings together tech companies with Black female founders/co-founders, angel and venture investors, leading corporations and those invested in the future of tech. As a social enterprise that finds, supports and trains urban tech entrepreneurs, DigitalunDivided runs the FOCUS Tech Entrepreneurship Incubator and Accelerator, helping diverse women founders to raise over $13 million in angel and venture funding.
Finney has also launched ProjectDiane, a crowdsourced project collecting the names of Black women founders, named in honor of Diane Nash, an unsung heroine of the Civil Rights era. The project is set to culminate with the Indiegogo-funded documentary #RewriteTheCode, set to explore the intersectionality of gender and race in tech.
Angela Benton’s NewME Accelerator rose to prominence in 2011 as the feature of CNN’s Black in America 4, in which the series chronicled the two months that eight Black entrepreneurs worked and lived together in a rented house in Mountain View, California. The incubator program formed to help minorities launch Internet ventures, connected them to advice from successful executives, and offered them the opportunity to pitch their startups to investors.
Now the organization works off of a pop-up model launched at the Revolt Music Conference in Miami as the Idealab, an intensive two-day program that allows entrepreneurs to generate new ideas and accelerate their businesses with advice from leading venture capitalists, hands-on workshops, and preparation for a pitch competition.
Pop-ups have happened in other cities like New York and Detroit, and the NewME platform is now also open as a virtual platform. NewME entrepreneurs have raised over $16.9 million since launch.
Black Founders is on a mission to increase the number of successful Black entrepreneurs in technology by creating an ecosystem that stimulates tech entrepreneurship and fosters economic growth in the community. Founded by Chris Bennett, Hadiya Mujhid, Monique Woodard and Nnnena Ukuku, the group operates under two separate organizations: Black Founders Startup Community, a charitable organization offering educational programs and conferences for Black entrepreneurs; and Black Founders Startup Ventures, a for-profit venture providing finances costs for startups.
Black Founders hosts networking and educational events for entrepreneurs, as well as HBCU Hackathons, which offer students the opportunity to flex their coding skills. Most importantly, the organization uses Gust to track startups that are currently raising money and actively looking for investors with the intention of creating a pipeline to help angels and venture investors to find promising startups.
Lynne d Johnson has been writing about music since the early 1990s, tech since the late ’90s, and the intersection of music and technology since the early 2000s. She currently writes, teaches and consults companies on how to better engage with their audiences. Follow her on Twitter @lynneluvah.