When members of our senior management team and I recently traveled to Silicon Valley, it proved to be an eye-opening, empowering experience. During our trip, Ken Coleman, my good friend and a tech trailblazer who has been part of that ecosystem for more than 30 years, introduced us to scores of African American executives and entrepreneurs. Some worked for legacy companies such as Apple, HP, and Intel and others were employees of next-generation tech powerhouses like Google, Facebook, and Uber. Others were entrepreneurial innovators using digital technology to transform legal services, healthcare, media, and other sectors.
Over the years, we have identified myriad techpreneurs wired into powerful business models. Former hedge fund manager Chinedu Echeruo designed HopStop.com, a navigation service that helps people find nearby public transportation, and sold it to Apple for an estimated $1 billion. Blaze Mobile CEO Michelle Fisher, who has been awarded 30 patents, creates groundbreaking commerce solutions for hand-held devices. Don Charlton, an entrepreneur who raised $18 million in VC financing and counts Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr among his clients has realized multifold growth for his digital staffing service The Resumator, now called Jazz.
The success of this exceptional group confirms my contention that technology continues to be our greatest equalizer. Application of a tech platform to a viable business idea enables your venture to obtain significant financing, reach global markets, and become a wealth-building machine. As an entrepreneur in today’s sharing economy, your product or service can become readily accessible to the masses.
Embracing technology cannot be an optional exercise in today’s business environment. For one, it has already totally disrupted industries in which you are a participant. Let’s take television and film. Digital technology has altered viewing habits as more people have abandoned traditional TV and “cut the cable cordâ€ to watch their favorite shows via online streaming services on their own schedule and devices. As Coleman told us, “Silicon Valley is a different world.â€ He’s right–quite literally it’s the center of the universe when it comes to innovation.
While I’ve been impressed with the caliber of professionals we’ve met in recent months, the participation of minorities in the region remains abysmal. While many tech companies talk about how much they embrace and value diversity the numbers just don’t bear out than assertion. And, overall, African American startups receive less than 1% in venture capital financing.
That’s why we will unveil our inaugural Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit at the Santa Clara, California, Hyatt Regency from Oct. 12—13.Â It will present a unique, unparalleled opportunity to make connections among the best and brightest of the African American tech community–from Silicon Valley and beyond–for advancement and collaboration. It’s designed for growth-minded tech entrepreneurs, mid-career professionals seeking fresh opportunities, college grads looking to launch a career at top firms, and companies wanting to recruit more diverse pools of talent. As such, TechConneXt will feature nationally recognized speakers, entrepreneurs, and technology leaders, showcase new innovations, and honor African American trailblazers of Silicon Valley, while offering you the access and resources to achieve real industry-wide success.
So as Black Enterprise enlists you to become a full participant in the tech revolution, I urge you to go west young professional–attend our Silicon Valley Summit–and become a disruptive force in pursuit of career and business opportunities.