Being disruptive got me suspended in high school a couple of times.. even got me fired from a few jobs. But as an entrepreneur, I can now spread my wings and be disruptive in a way that adds value to my clients, partners and vendors. It’s been BeastMode since day 1 on the disruptive tip! #mitechpartners #dontsleep
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We, at Mitech Partners and the Nashville Black Chamber of Commerce, hope you have enjoyed our series of Black Inventors in Tech and Black Innovators in Technology. Our hope is that these articles have given you some insight to contributions in technology yesterday, today and tomorrow from African Americans. Although this series was a campaign during Black History Month, you’ll see other highlights from us throughout the year; especially about notable achievements in Technology and Business.
Day 28 #lastday
Woodard worked in the entertainment business until 2008 when she was recruited by a tech company in the Bay Area. She got her first computer when she was seven years old and loved technology “because it was about having the freedom to be creative and make something from your own brain and your own ingenuity. That creativity appealed to me.”
In Silicon Valley, she became immersed in the start-up community. She noticed she was always one of a very few African Americans in the room when she went to pitch events, hackathons and start-up conferences. She and her fellow Black Founders co-founders wanted to change that so they created a network of their own. Black Founders began hosting events and workshops. Soon it expanded to other cities and to historically black universities and colleges.
Today, it puts on hackathons at HBCUs where students who are interested in careers in tech and entrepreneurship spend a weekend developing software and mobile apps and connecting with tech companies.
Recently Black Founders launched a mentoring program to pair entrepreneurs with experienced founders. In 2016 Woodard says she plans to take on the dearth of funding resources for black entrepreneurs.
“Access to capital, especially at early stage is still a challenge for black founders and we’ve been thinking deeply about ways to make an impact there,” she says.
Woodard will be making an impact in another way. In January, Woodard joined 500 Startups as the venture firm and start-up accelerator’s first black investor.
“We have to diversify who’s going out there and finding companies and who’s writing the checks,” she said. “That is incredibly important. It’s hard to find black and Latino founders if you don’t have black and Latino investors on your staff.”
Makinde Adeagbo splits his time between being a software engineer at the San Francisco company Pinterest and running /dev/color, a nonprofit group for African-American engineers.
The group brings together engineers from top companies such as Facebook, Uber and Airbnb to provide support for each other and a voice to African Americans in Silicon Valley companies who make up a tiny percentage of technical workers.
Born in Nigeria and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Adeagbo became interested in software engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He landed summer internships at Microsoft and Apple. His first job out of college was at Facebook.
Adeagbo says he was drawn to solving big problems in the tech industry and beyond, in search of ways to make people’s lives “tangibly better,” working on software for schools in Kenya and coaching track in East Palo Alto, Calif.
Now he’s working to match young engineers with role models to guide them.
“Those examples help lead someone to believe: I can do this because someone like me is doing this,” he says.
A lifelong advocate for people of color and women, Kapor Klein has championed the fight to make the overwhelmingly white and male Silicon Valley more inclusive by promoting equal access to education, funding companies whose leaders hail from underrepresented communities and conducting training for major tech companies on unconscious bias.
She regularly challenges the popular myth that Silicon Valley is a meritocracy where anyone, regardless of race or creed, has an equal shot at success.
“What we have now is a gap between the promise and the stated values and what actually are the opportunities,” Kapor Klein says.
Her work to close that gap is rooted in her Jewish heritage that embraces “a strong sense of social justice.”
“If anyone is being treated unfairly in your community, your country, your society, your school, your workplace, then all of us are participating in that system,” she says. “All of us need to make sure that the system is fair or else we are participating in a rigged game.”
In 2001 Kapor founded the Level Playing Field Institute, a nonprofit which finds innovative ways to remove barriers to higher education and the workplace and houses the SMASH (Summer Math and Science Honors) Academy for low-income high school students of color. She and her husband, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Mitch Kapor have committed to spending $40 million over the next three years to the cause of tech diversity.
Seibel has the kind of entrepreneurial chops that command respect in Silicon Valley.
He was an early executive with Justin.tv, the video streaming service which later became Twitch Interactive and sold to Amazon.com for $970 million. He was also CEO of Socialcam, a social video sharing app that spun out of Justin.tv and sold to Autodesk for $60 million when it was just 18 months old and had four employees.
Like Justin.tv., Socialcam was a graduate of Y Combinator, the most famous and influential incubator in Silicon Valley where Seibel is now a partner.
Part of his job is reaching out to blacks and Latinos who are underrepresented in Silicon Valley and in Y Combinator.
Seibel started YC Open Office Hours to give people of all backgrounds direct access to Y Combinator partners. In just one week, more than 600 companies applied, 60 of them got in person or Skype meetings with partners. Y Combinator is now planning to expand the program.
He’s also working on a project called YC Startup College, which offers tech start-up curriculum to colleges in general and specifically to historically black universities and colleges. It is currently being piloted at Howard University and Morgan State University.
The efforts are slowly paying off: 19% of the companies in the last Y Combinator batch had either a black or a Latino founder on their founding team.
“Startups are often best at solving the personal problems of their founders. The more diverse the founders, the more types of problems can be solved — and the more people who will be positively impacted by technology,” Seibel says.
If ever there was a role model for young African Americans in Silicon Valley, it’s Walker.
This Silicon Valley entrepreneur is building a modern personal care line for people of color and recently raised $24 million from top venture capitalists and celebrity investors such as Earvin “Magic” Johnson, John Legend and NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala. He has inked a deal with Target to sell its flagship product Bevel, a single-blade razor system for men and women with coarse, curly hair, in select Target stores in the United States and on Target.com and recently rolled out a new trimmer as a companion to Bevel.
“He’s a real forward thinker and a real visionary,” hip-hop artist and Walker & Company Brands investor Nas said. “There have been so many products out there for people of color that were not owned by people of color and that matters. Tristan comes from a different way of thinking. Tristan comes into it seeing what’s missing in the industry and it’s important for him to change that.”
Walker’s company reflects his values: Six out of 10 senior leaders are women and 50% of staffers are women. People of color comprise the majority while white men are a distinct minority.
“It’s good business. A more diverse workforce is a better workforce. A more diverse workforce is a better America,” Walker says.