Photo Courtesy of BlackTech Week
By ISHEKA N. HARRISON
Innovation is often born out of necessity; and it is necessary for people of color to make their mark in the ever-evolving tech revolution happening across the globe.
That’s the message more than 600 attendees at BlackTech Weekend, held Feb. 23-25, heard from expert panelists and presenters.
Founded by Miami’s own husband and wife team, Derick Pearson and Felecia Hatcher-Pearson of Code Fever, the weekend is a spin-off and precursor to BlackTech Week, which will be held in September.
The weekend’s main goal was to connect entrepreneurs of color to funding, vital information, mentors and resources so they won’t be left behind and miss the lucrative opportunities in the tech industry.
“Technology is the way to equal opportunity for our community. It is the only industry where everyone is learning on the job,” said Lauren Maillian, a former model turned entrepreneur, author, investor and reality TV star who served as one of the expert panelists during the weekend.
Maillian also encouraged transparency in sharing ideas and failures, saying those who failed before are actually creating million-dollar and billion-dollar companies now more than ever.
“Something that I personally feel is a handicap to our community is that we keep our ideas to ourselves … White boys don’t do that,” Maillian said. “It’s in the opportunities to fail that we realize the opportunity to do something bigger and better. I would rather people rip the idea apart and give me a counter to be able to look at the idea in a different way instead of spending all my resources to put into a company or a concept to put out into the world and realize it’s not right.”
Her statement was validated by many of her peers including BlackTech co-founder Hatcher-Pearson.
“That’s what it’s all about … not just bringing the speakers down, but really being able to connect people to potential funders that can catapult what they’re doing and people that can give them real, immediate advice,” Hatcher-Pearson said.
Hatcher-Pearson also noted the one-on-one accessibility the weekend afforded aspiring and start-up entrepreneurs to heavyweights like Maillian, Michael Seibel, Angela Benton, Sarah Kunst, Lance Lucas and others who have been very successful in their endeavors.
“We don’t need fluff. We don’t need people patting us on the back or even avoiding us. We need people that are going to share amazing nuggets with us and take the time to answer any questions that we have,” Hatcher-Pearson said, pointing out an intimate conversation happening between a speaker and attendee. “We’ve created a community that’s really supportive and very casual as well.”
According to Hatcher-Pearson, they decided to start the weekend after reviewing the data and growth from the last two years of BlackTech Week.
“We asked ourselves how can we dig deeper and be more intentional with some of the programming that we have, some of the people that we bring down, and how can we spread that throughout the rest of the year,” Hatcher-Pearson said.
Finding that access to funding was a major pain point, the Pearsons and their team decided to dedicate the weekend to teaching entrepreneurs how to overcome that obstacle with topics like how to access government funding, crowdfunding, how to pitch venture capitalists, angel funding, etc.
“We wanted to show people how to go from idea to growth and that black people do raise money. We don’t just hold prison records, we buy and sell companies,” Hatcher said. “We own trademarks, we own copyrights, that’s our lineage. That’s what our ancestors have done and now we’re able to do the same thing with technology.”
The weekend included an opening night at Venture Café Miami, panel discussions, master classes, fireside chats, breakfast an lunch sessions, an after party, a Black Miami History Innovation Tour and a teen pitch competition.
Tech experts and attendees alike left encouraged to do their part in helping build a stronger global community of black techies.
“The primary reason why I came is because I wanted to connect with others working in the space and grow my network,” said Meka Egwuekwe, who left his career as a software architect in Memphis to create a non-profit called CodeCrew that teaches youth how to code. “I most certainly accomplished that goal and the conference exceeded my expectations. I think there will be multiple opportunities to partner with many of the contacts I made here.”
Hatcher-Pearson said the week in September will further expound on other issues blacks in tech and business face including: exploring why cities with black mayors are never in the tech conversation, why innovation hubs are transformational and more. It will maintain its education track, STEM career and recruitment focus, start up and entrepreneurship track and Women’s Innovation Brunch. They expect over 3000 attendees and are looking to expand their work throughout the state of Florida.
“We have amazing assets. We know our community dictates culture so these companies are literally making new decisions about the product that they should be making at their technology companies based on our consumption habits of their platforms,” Hatcher-Pearson said. “How can we financially benefit from that? That’s why BlackTech Weekend and BlackTech Week exist.”
She encouraged aspiring and start up entrepreneurs and innovators to chuck fear of rejection at the door and make their presence known.
“Show up to the rooms that you’re not invited to and be unapologetic about it,” Hatcher-Pearson advised. “We should and can be our own storytellers. It’s not for a lack of ideas in our community, it’s simply for a lack of resources.”