New Tech HBCU Initiative In Support of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper

The South by Southwest Interactive Festival teamed up with Atlanta co-working space Opportunity Hub, the black collective MVMT50, and several historically black colleges and universities.

In support of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper, a new initiative was launched at this year’s festival to address persistent opportunity gaps facing boys and young men of color.

[Related: President Obama Speaks On Apple, FBI Issue and Using Tech for Civic Duty at SXSW]

Students were able to participate in a hackathon, attend workshops, panels, and pitch competitions. Participating HBCU students included Morehouse College, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, Howard University, Johnson C. Smith University, University of the Virgin Islands and Huston-Tillotson University.

“Exposing these entrepreneurs to all the opportunities for learning and networking that SXSW has to offer is important in their development as co-founders,” noted Hugh Forrest, director, SXSW in a statement. “These young HBCU entrepreneurs are important in the continued development of SXSW as a more diverse and inclusive ecosystem for all. Initiatives such as this one are a strong step toward achieving the goal of a more diverse tech industry.”

A 2015 report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers explores the barriers that disadvantaged youth face, particularly young men of color, and quantifies the enormous costs this poses to the U.S. economy. In particular, this report focuses on the significant disparities in education, exposure to the criminal justice system, employment, and access to opportunity that persists between young men of color and other Americans.

“My Brother’s Keeper is focused on expanding opportunity so all of our young people can build the skills and networks needed to succeed in the 21st century economy,” stated Michael Smith, special assistant to the President and senior director for White House My Brother’s Keeper Task Force. “We commend SXSW, MVMT50 and Opportunity Hub for this exciting new partnership to advance this goal, providing a one-of-a-kind learning experience about innovation and entrepreneurship to students who otherwise may not have had this opportunity.”

Opportunity Hub, inspired by MBK, worked to encourage directors at many of the HBCUs to look at SXSW as an important opportunity to expose their students to tech, STEM, the startup ecosystem, and the opportunities for internships, connections, and mentorship. Founded in 2013, Opportunity Hub (OHUB) builds diverse and inclusive entrepreneurial centers and startup ecosystems from the ground up. Opportunity Hub merged with TechSquare Labs, a 25,000-square-foot incubator, co-working and innovation space anchored by a $25 million venture fund.

“Early exposure to innovative environments, tech entrepreneurship, and the opportunities it can provide as a software engineer, technical or business co-founder can be the difference maker in a person’s career and life,” added Rodney Sampson, chairman, Opportunity Hub; chief of diversity & inclusion initiatives, TechSquare Labs.

“Long term, it allows entrepreneurs from underserved and underrepresented backgrounds to work on solving big problems which can lead to the development of high-growth companies that create high-growth jobs and can transform entire communities.”