Most creators of new media startups launch enterprises upon graduating from top-rated computer science or software engineering programs and after receiving additional training as employees of large, established companies. African Americans earn only 4.7% of all engineering bachelor’s degrees and remain vastly underrepresented in employee pools at leading tech companies. Blacks averaged just 2.5% of employees and 2.0% of officials/managers at the top 10 tech companies in Silicon Valley, according to Department of Labor data from 2005 obtained by Silicon Valley’s Mercury News through a Freedom of Information Act request. However, five companies–Google, Apple, Yahoo, Oracle and Applied Materials–convinced federal regulators to withhold gender and race data, stating that it would hurt their competitive advantage. The Black Economic Council, along with the Latino Business Chamber of Greater Los Angeles and the National Asian American Coalition, sponsored several protests this year against Apple and Google and have, among other things, requested that the Department of Labor release the withheld data and that the Obama Administration deny temporary foreign worker visas for any company with less than 5% black employees.
Such stats aren’t surprising but should be considering African Americans are among top consumers of tech products and adopters of social media. Smith admits that “we’re not producing meaningful numbers of professionals from our communities with the requisite skills nor access to the hiring ecosystems that would enable employment at innovative technology leaders such as Google, Facebook, Zynga, etc., and then take their turn at being entrepreneurs.â€ He adds, “More generally, we are not creating a culture of entrepreneurship in high-growth technology sectors.â€
That’s why NewMe is so groundbreaking. It offers a select group of entrepreneurs access unavailable to most aspiring African American tech founders: total immersion in Silicon Valley’s culture and mentorship from the digital elite. NewMe provides living expenses for all eight participants; Benton and partner Wayne Sutton, founder of SocialWayne.com and an expert on location-based business development, decided participants would reap greater benefits by sharing quarters in a house located in Mountain View, California, just minutes from Google, one of NewMe’s sponsors. Google’s corporate headquarters served as the venue for the NewMe welcome reception in June, and top management has enlisted software developers to provide time, instruction, and mentorship to program participants.
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