If you’re black in tech, you’ve probably read time and time again how difficult it can be to find and connect with people who you can identify with. That is what prompted Lesley Toche to launch Nextplay Events to counter the narrative that black and brown talent is hard to find. The Oakland-based company was created to build community, create unprecedented access to career opportunities, and promote black and Latino culture in tech with the company’s motto being, #TheySayWeDontExist.
As the founder and CEO of the company, Toche works closely with a team of tech vets who have graced some of the world’s largest tech enterprises. Prior to launching Nextplay, Toche worked at LinkedIn for four years where he was a recruiter and transitioned into a diversity program manager.
While at LinkedIn, Toche’s creative freedom made room for him to produce networking events like LinkedIn’s open mic nights. As someone who is committed to building community and creating space for people in tech to connect with others as their authentic-self, it was important for Toche to host engaging events for his peers.
In turn, after exiting his 9 to 5, he decided that he wanted to take his events to the next level and Nextplay Events was created with the intention to connect talented people with gatekeepers in a unique way.
Nextplay is the ultimate plug
“I decided to launch Nextplay because I started getting requests to build a broader community and connect folks with the broader tech industry. Both companies and attendees made these requests. Seeing that I had built a unique platform that could build community and connect black and Latinx professionals with career opportunities at the top tech companies, I decided to launch Nextplay,” says Toche.
Nextplay has an international, growing community of 7,000 members that includes technical and non-technical professionals who work in tech and other industries. The company also has 32 strategic partners, which has allowed them to host events in Silicon Valley, New York, Washington D.C, London, Atlanta, and Seattle.
They Say We Don’t Exist
“Our slogan is #TheySayWeDontExist and so we’re changing this narrative by showing the world that there isn’t a pipeline issue. The talent exists. Through our events, we help black and Latinx engineers build community and discover better career opportunities simultaneously. That’s what makes us unique. Events are generally either recruiting-focused or community-focused. We merge the two together and create space where everyone can be their authentic self, have a great time, and make some new connections that lead to career opportunities,” says Toche.
In the essence of hosting events that are engaging, Toche and his team make sure that each of their networking events is a cultural experience that attendees and sponsors can enjoy. Nextplay has a number of corporate sponsors including LinkedIn, Snap Inc., Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb, and more. In fact, their events are typically multi-sponsored so that tech companies have a presence at the events and are able to build genuine relationships with professionals of color that lead to hires.
Those experiences range from conversations with CEOs to live dance performances to live paintings of the actual networking event. Nextplay has also played an instrumental role in building a bridge for leaders internationally.
“In 2018, we hosted a fireside chat with the vice president of Nigeria, H.E Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and LinkedIn’s cofounder, Allen Blue. The vice president made his first trip to Silicon Valley and wanted to have a conversation with African/black professionals in tech about economic opportunity in Africa. He requested the Nextplay community specifically, given the backgrounds of our members as well as our unique blend of inspiring talks and culture,” says Toche.
In addition to knowing how to host a good time, Toche and his team understand that in tech who you know at times carries more weight than what you know. As leaders with a background in recruitment, Nextplay is intentional about what professionals they invite into the room and often make warm introductions and referrals for prime candidates.
“The playing field today is not leveled because there’s a huge network gap. You can acquire skills but, if you do not have the right network, it’ll be difficult to continue growing in your career and achieving your career goals. By virtue of our events, our members are able to meet the right folks that can help them get to the next level,” says Toche.
Through community, culture, and connectedness, Nextplay is on a mission to change business as usual in tech.