For All Points-Of-The-View.
In the past year, the lack of African-Americans in Silicon Valley has been well-documented. But no one needs a report or study to really understand how much Blacks are lacking in the behind-the-scenes action of the tech space. It’s a deficiency of sorts that doesn’t make sense considering our capacities to tap into the market.
The experience of Kiratiana Freelon, editor for BlackAtlas.com and author of “Kiratiana’s Travel Guide to Black Paris,” may very well reflect the perceptions that deter greater African-American involvement. “Even though I had gone to Harvard, attended the same colleges as these tech superstars [like] Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, I never in my life thought that I could apply my ideas to technology and create something until last year.”
The life changing moment for Freelon came at the SXSW 2010 festival, where she witnessed a pitch event involving a myriad of enterpreneurs who had built web apps and tech companies.
“It made me [ask myself] ‘why am I not considering starting a tech company as well?” she said. “I was always thinking of myself as a blogger, a video blogger or a social media enthusiast. It made me realize that all that tech people were doing were solving problems. Although I didn’t have the tech abilities to code a problem, I still could partner with a tech person to develop an idea that solves a problem and helps people.”
Not only did the experience change Freelon’s approach to her own media career but also ignited her passion to encourage more African-American to pursue tech entrepreneurship as she witnessed the dearth of Black figures representing in tech. With that, her “100% Viable, 1% Visible” project was born. She presented her findings about the lack of African-American participation in Silicon Valley and the opportunities for improving participation at the most recent SXSW festival.
She extrapolated on a 2010 study conducted by MIT MBA student Allen T. Lamb which researched why African-American led companies were so far behind that of its white and Asian-led counterparts. Among other things, the study showed that African-American headed companies are underfunded from the start and many African-American entrepreneurs live outside of tech centers.
“There’s not enough minorities in the Slicon Valley ecosystem – the people who are funding the companies don’t get to know African-Americans personally,” said Freelon. “If you are going to play with the big dogs, you gotta live there, be [amongst] them.”
And just exactly how present are African-Americans. Considering that Omar Wasow, who startedBlackPlanet.com 12 years ago, is the last visible role model for Black techies, the state of representation is pretty dismal. Although other Blacks have started tech companies, none of them have rivaled the splash that Wasow made in 1999. According to the 2010 Human Capital Venture Report, Blacks represented only 1% of all internet startups funded in the first half of 2010 in series A Venture Capital Funding.
“One percent comes down to 2 people,” said Freelon “That’s how many black people are starting tech companies?”
The other challenges to Black tech entrepreneurship include the decrease in minority hires in Silicon Valley and the decrease in college students studying Science, Technology and Engineering. Freelon hopes that prospective entrepreneurs will learn more about how Startup America, an initiative announced by President Obama to “inspire and accelerate entrepreneurship” and which will provide funding for new tech companies and invest in STEM education, can empower their efforts in the tech space.
As for herself, Freelon is working on developing a mobile web application from her travel guide book and continuing to work on promoting minority tech entrepreneurship. “Everything’s falling into place for minorities to have support to start more tech companies,” she said. “The next step might just be highlight those people who have done it.”