Thursday, 9 May 2013

Rewiring The Tech Business

Tech entrepreneurs check in to Silicon Valley hoping to cash out

Angela Benton
Age 30
Company Black Web 2.0
Description A technology and new media site targeting African Americans.

Rewiring The Tech Business
Photo by Scott Council
Angela Benton, founder and CEO of Black Web Media L.L.C., which produces the popular tech blog Black Web 2.0, and creator of mobile location-based app Cued, was inspired to help start the NewMe accelerator after organizing a conference last year in which approximately 100 entrepreneurs and policymakers reviewed barriers that kept minority firms from evolving to the level of Twitter and Facebook. “Those entrepreneurs felt like they weren’t ingrained in the industry and it has hindered their success, not necessarily because of race but because of location,” says Benton, who left Charlotte, North Carolina, to join the seven other NewMe participants. “It’s hard to get in the Silicon Valley network if you’re not vetted by somebody who is already very successful.”

Most creators of new media startups launch enterprises upon graduating from top-rated computer science or software engineering programs and after receiving additional training as employees of large, established companies. African Americans earn only 4.7% of all engineering bachelor’s degrees and remain vastly underrepresented in employee pools at leading tech companies. Blacks averaged just 2.5% of employees and 2.0% of officials/managers at the top 10 tech companies in Silicon Valley, according to Department of Labor data from 2005 obtained by Silicon Valley’s Mercury News through a Freedom of Information Act request. However, five companies—Google, Apple, Yahoo, Oracle and Applied Materials—convinced federal regulators to withhold gender and race data, stating that it would hurt their competitive advantage. The Black Economic Council, along with the Latino Business Chamber of Greater Los Angeles and the National Asian American Coalition, sponsored several protests this year against Apple and Google and have, among other things, requested that the Department of Labor release the withheld data and that the Obama Administration deny temporary foreign worker visas for any company with less than 5% black employees.

Such stats aren’t surprising but should be considering African Americans are among top consumers of tech products and adopters of social media. Smith admits that “we’re not producing meaningful numbers of professionals from our communities with the requisite skills nor access to the hiring ecosystems that would enable employment at innovative technology leaders such as Google, Facebook, Zynga, etc., and then take their turn at being entrepreneurs.” He adds, “More generally, we are not creating a culture of entrepreneurship in high-growth technology sectors.”

That’s why NewMe is so groundbreaking. It offers a select group of entrepreneurs access unavailable to most aspiring African American tech founders: total immersion in Silicon Valley’s culture and mentorship from the digital elite. NewMe provides living expenses for all eight participants; Benton and partner Wayne Sutton, founder of and an expert on location-based business development, decided participants would reap greater benefits by sharing quarters in a house located in Mountain View, California, just minutes from Google, one of NewMe’s sponsors. Google’s corporate headquarters served as the venue for the NewMe welcome reception in June, and top management has enlisted software developers to provide time, instruction, and mentorship to program participants.

Source: Black Enterprise

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