Posts Taged african-american

Encrouraging Government Procurement of Minority Tech Start-Ups

The post originally appeared on Politic365

The Internet is a topic of conversation in D.C. more than ever these days.  It has spawned companies like Google and Facebook that have not only changed how we find and share information but have also impacted the economy with job creation and monetization opportunities for companies of all sizes on their platforms.  Yes, the Internet has been a life-changing bed of opportunity for thousands of small companies and individuals, alike.

Within all the opportunity, however, there lies a problem that does not seem to be improving, not to mention it’s a little secret that many people just aren’t talking about:  the lack of diversity in the start-up technology space.

It’s not a hidden issue per se, as reports from CB insights show us the hard data that less than 1% of start-up founders are African American.  Yes, minorities are consuming media (especially those accessible across mobile devices) at alarming rates, but they are not involved in the product creation process in a manner that ultimately yields jobs creation and economic opportunities.  The excuse that minorities just adapt to technology later than their non-minority counterparts, which was one of the justifications given when the term “digital Divide” was coined by Larry Irving, no longer can be used to justify this gap.   Calling it a “Digital Lag,” as I recently heard on a call, in an effort to show some sort of progress does not mitigate the lack of production on the part of minorities either.

The problem here, is bigger than access or adoption of technology.  What we’re facing is systemic, as noted in reports by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies or the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which find that  less that 50% of African Americans and slightly over 50% of Hispanics have adopted broadband internet at home. What, then, does this mean? It means that minority youth are not growing up with the Internet in their home.  They are not developing the comfort and confidence with the technology that enables them to realize that they can be producers, not just consumers, of the latest new online gadget or widget; that empowers them to think, “what if I built something”?   The result?  Many minority youth don’t have access to all of the free online learning that is available to them.  Or, if they have access to it, they have not yet learned how to realize the power of technology and leverage it to their own best benefit.

When others talk about this issue they usually place one sided blame on the investors in the space.  I don’t really agree with that.  Several parties contribute and can help with the situation and receive benefits from helping. An entire calculus is involved in changing the culture from consumption to production and involves everyone from VCs and angel investors, start-ups large and small, minorities themselves and the government.

All of the private entities and individuals mentioned above are already known to our government, which is gradually taking steps toward embracing technology with initiatives like data.gov and the code for America ,but in order for us to create a new level of interest and engagement among our citizenry, we have to do more bring minorities into the fold.  Here are a few ideas for what the government can do to further incentivize techonology adoption and use.

  • Increase Technology Education in Schools: If you have seen “waiting for Superman” then you know the dire straights our inner city schools are facing. With the wealth of free information out there on sites like Khan Academy teachers can incorporate more learning resources than their budgets allow and also promote self discovery and inspire kids to move toward success in this era of “no child left behind.”
  • Subsidize Broadband Access and support Public-Private Partnerships: Whether through neighborhood wifi or discounts, we have to get broadband Internet into the hands of minority youth at home.  The library and school are good but they need it in their homes to change the systematic issues associated with non-adoption and hyper-consumerism.
  • Offer Digital Literacy Training For Adults: Since this issue is not new, we need to bridge the digital literacy gap with working adults so that they are comfortable with technology at home and can encourage their children and peers to be as well.
  • Create Digital Entrepreneurship Incubators: In the Start-up space there are technology incubators (Ycombinator and TechStars are two of many) which help fledgling entrepreneurs get thier company off the ground. The challenge with a lot of these programs is that the entrants come in with a certain set of skills (i.e. usually the ability to code) which causes minorities who lack such skills to shy away from these programs. The government could help by creating entities that train  people on the skills they would need to go into one of these incubator programs or even offer similar preparatory programs for people with a different skill set in the technology arena.
  • Create More Technology Programs For Kids:  Recently the Science and Engineering festival was held on the national mall.  This program was a partnership between corporate and non profit sponsors.  More of these  STEM programs need to happen in inner city schools.  These programs show children the excitement of solving problems with technology.
  • Continue to Give Incentive’s To  Small Businesses: The Small Business Jobs Act that President Obama signed recently was a great first step, they need to continue to give incentives to investors to invest in small business and minority and women-owned businesses as well.
  • Focus On The Real Issues: Our government can only do so much at a time, and should focus on issues like these which will have an immediate impact on people regarding job creation and increased economic opportunity.  Not that they can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, but while the government is accutely focused on contentions issues like those related to Internet regulation, they are less able to focus on issues such as these that can have more immediate impact on the population at large.

Steps have certainly been taken in the right direction under the Obama Administration, but there is much more the government can do to foster innovation and opportunity in the tech space, particularly among minority populations.

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Diversity in Tech: Be the Change You Want to See

This post originally appeared on Blackweb20.com

The Internet has spawned companies like Google and Facebook. Companies that have not only changed how we find and share information, but have impacted the economy with job creation and monetization opportunities for companies of all sizes on their platforms. The Internet has been a life-changing bed of opportunity for thousands of small companies and individuals. However within all this opportunity, there is a problem that doesn’t seem to be improving and isn’t being discussed — the lack of diversity in the startup technology space.

It’s not a hidden issue. Reports from CB Insights reveal that less than 1% of startup founders are African American. Minorities are consuming media at an astounding rate, but they are not involved in the product creation process.  The excuse that minorities just take longer to adapt to technology was one of the justifications given when the term “digital divide” was coined by Larry Irving. In an effort to show we’ve made some progress, it’s been upgraded to “digtal lag.”

Other reports such as the Pew study show that less that 50% of African Americans and slightly over 50% of Hispanics have adopted broadband Internet at home. This means that minority youth are not growing up with the Internet in their home or developing the comfort and confidence with the technology necessary to make technology an attainable career choice. They also don’t have access to all of the free online learning tools available. I believe there are things that all sides can do to help that can benefit everyone — from VCs and angel investors, startups both large and small, even the government.

As a community we need to ask ourselves, “What have I done to better position myself?” I do it and I’m not always happy with the answer. You want to be involved in the tech entrepreneurial space. Why not go to work at a startup to gain the experience and the relationships you can use when you launch your own? You’re aware of the skills these companies are looking for. What have you done to increase your skills in these areas?  Ultimately, we can either sit back and the let the gap widen or we can make a move to cross it. We have a value proposition problem in our youth today. They are not looking at the tech world as a viable career path. If we’re going to institute change, we have to change our own thinking about getting involved in tech.

Many of you who read this blog are entrepreneurs and want to learn how to grow your business, raise capital and get your product built.  You are looking in every direction except one:  yourself. Many startups stall because they can’t find that technical c0-founder. If you want to start a company and can’t find one then maybe you should become one. If there are two of you looking build a business then one of you bite the bullet and handle the tech side of things. Lastly, if you are in the industry, there are a bunch of people in NY and the Valley who have ideas and possible investors but need a tech founder. There are ways to gain entry into the industry if we are willing to do the work.

We owe it not only to ourselves but the world. So many great ideas never see the light of day because we don’t push hard enough to execute them. There are kids out there looking for someone to show them a different way. We have the opportunity to do that.  We can blame the current startup ecosystem for not making it easy for us. We can blame the government for not making sure they focus on the technology issues that truly affect us. We could do that, but I’m suggesting something different. Let’s achieve success in spite of the obstacles. All it takes is for us to make the decision to learn as much as possible and then do what we do best, break barriers. In the worlds of P. Diddy and B.I.G. “We can’t change the world unless we change ourselves.”

I’m ready to start. Are you with me?

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DC Days: From The DNC To The CBC And Back

DENVER - AUGUST 26:  Members of the Congressio...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Last week was the annual Congressional Black Caucus Conference in DC. There were a whole list of events going on both day and night. I participated in two events that left me with some interesting insights. The first was held at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. It was a round table discussion between the  committee chairman , Gov. Tim Kaine and African American Bloggers. The topics ranged from  how African American Bloggers can help get the word out to how African Americans have not been engaged since the presidential election. What was truly interesting was that everyone could admit that the presidential campaign’s use of the internet and social media was one the key things that set it apart but smaller elections that have happened since then have not capitalized on it. I know that the recent Governer’s race here in NJ was a clear case of that.  If the democratic party is make any headway in the upcoming midterm elections then the campaigns have to embrace the power of the internet and how it can help connect people to their cause and be the spring board for more active use  of online tools by their constituents after the election is over.

That is a great segway to my second stop in DC during the week. On Friday I participated in a panel called Government 2.0 which was sponsored by Majority Whip James Clyburn. We discussed  the importance of the use of broadband as a channel for elected officials to connect with the people. A great example of how we are moving in that direction was the fact that Mr. Clyburn himself was toting an Ipad and mentioned during hid open remarks that he had recently joined twitter. I spoke about the elected officials could give more minorities and additional incentive to get online and adopt broadband in the home if they felt it gave them a direct link to their elected officials. By the end of panel the whole room had learned more about the opportunities that exist for them right now. Ironically enough the discussion of net neutrality did not come up except for one woman commenting that she didn’t really see why it was a focus right now instead of the national broadband plan given our current needs.  Which proves what i have been saying for a while now that if you educate people on all the issues they will clearly see where our energy should be spent and what will have a true impact on the minority community which is Broadband adoption, education and literacy.

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