Black People Recommended To Venture Tech

The rate of Black people in the field of technology seems not be to escalating as in other areas.

A group of Grambling State University students put their minds to work in the last several weeks to take a shot at winning a business technology competition, a contest with the equivalent of NFL football playoffs leading to a Super Bowl business game day challenge, Grambling state University reports.

Not only did they make it to the finals, but won the entire competition. They won $10,000 towards their project entitled Relief Front.

Barry Bontiff, Kenneth Tanner and Joshua Anderson think when there are natural disasters, one solution is to provide and online market place to match those in need with disaster area businesses. The idea captured the imaginations of a panel of judges, and the team won $10,000 to implement their idea during a Bayou Classic Biz Tech Challenge (Nov. 26). Designed to get college students thinking about how to best fix natural disasters, the New Orleans competition featured students from Grambling State and five other universities. A panel of four judges considered each proposal, and the GSU students came out on top.

Byron Clayton, CEO of NexusLA, hosted the event for his company, and Kelisha Garrett of the New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce, assisted as a special guest speaker.

We talk about the lack of diversity in technology and dearth of economic opportunities for Black people as a problem now. But in the future, it will be a major economic crisis once people of color become the majority of our workforce, The Root states. If our K-12 and postsecondary institutions haven’t prepared this current generation of young students of color to compete for tech and engineering jobs, the whole nation will suffer.

To make sure that doesn’t happen, the country needs to do more to support competitions like BizTech and the institutions that make them possible: HBCUs make up just 3 percent of colleges and universities but produce 27 percent of African-American students with bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, according to federal statistics.

Entrepreneurial skills are needed in these lucrative tech fields. The white seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in October of this year was 4.3 percent. The black rate was exactly double that at 8.6 percent. In addition to money, black people need the human capital that comes along with the college degree (pdf). Thirty-six percent of working-age non-Hispanic whites have a college degree, compared with 23 percent of Black people, 54 percent of Asians and 16 percent of Hispanics.

Attendee Rodney Sampson, a partner in TechSquare Labs, watched carefully. TechSquare Labs is a technology incubator, corporate-innovation lab and venture fund headquartered in Atlanta. Its diversity and inclusion initiatives include CodeStart, TechHire and a $100 million Tech Opportunity Fund.

Entrepreneurial and business teams that include ethnic diversity at the highest levels are more likely to surpass their industry averages,” said Sampson, citing research out of McKinsey & Co. “So, diversity in tech and business isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s a proven business case for investment, recruitment and contracting.”

Sampson’s presence at the BizTech challenge was notable. According to a Brookings Institution report, African Americans make up less than 1 percent of senior decision-makers in venture capital.

The winning team from Grambling State University was the one that pitched Relief Front, the online marketplace that sells products of other stores that are negatively impacted by natural disasters, earning them $10,000 in capital and $5,000 in free legal services. Second- and third-place teams were from Xavier University and Southern University New Orleans for their respective Preventing Disaster Assistant, a disaster-preparedness app, and Panic Wave, a data-management tool.

But the startup tech world is extremely culturally exclusive. One doesn’t get to gain access to fellowships and incubators or get to pitch in competitions without an invitation. The BizTech Challenge acculturates black students to the new ways entrepreneurs are getting access to capital and other resources. Job interviews have been traded for pitch competitions.

The yearly pilgrimage to “the Dome” for the Bayou Classic highlights the profundity and uniqueness of HBCU culture. The Battle of the Bands, football game, vendors and surrounding activities make up a black world unto itself. Football games offer a great stage.

But it’s far more rare and extraordinary to watch Black people control, create and sell technology. Going back to the invention of the cotton gin, Black folk have been used by technology; they haven’t controlled it or even benefited much from advancements. Technological developments in the auto industry decimated black employment in the Midwest. Black prisoners were treated as guinea pigs in the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. Black folks are the No. 1 consumers of Twitter; but what does the leadership look like? African Americans comprise less than 2 percent of senior executive positions in high-tech companies, compared with 83 percent of whites.

The competitors of the BizTech Challenge are going beyond changing the mostly adversarial relationship that blacks have had with innovation. The students in the BizTech may change what kind of teams black communities come out to root for.

Companies that are disrupting societal norms via the sharing economy, social media and the internet of things must do better to address the less-than-remarkable representation of people of color as creators, influencers and decision-makers,” wrote Nicol Turner-Lee of the Brookings Institution.

HBCUs use of the football classics may bring attention to this issue. “We need to showcase our talent,” said Byron Clayton, president and CEO of Nexus Louisiana, sponsor and founder of the BizTech Challenge. Clayton hopes that some of the products pitched by the students will be able to take the next step toward hitting the market. “We have an incredible amount of talent in the HBCUs in Louisiana. We just need people to see it.

In time, maybe thousands will pay to see tech competitors in action inside a Superdome that one of the BizTech students owns.

Our congratulations to everyone who is putting efforts into coping with stereotypes surrounding the image of Black people. It is high time the world understood we can do much more than rap, play football or basketball… though we do it very well too.

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