Rising from the valley: Black Enterprise's inaugural technology conference connects today's disruptors and creates a pipeline to diversify the industry.

AuthorLynn, Samara


MORE THAN 450 TECH ENTREPRENEURS AND executives participated in Silicon Valley's latest disruption: the Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit. They flocked to the two-day conference held Oct. 12th and 13th at the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara in Santa Clara, California, to not only hear from tech luminaries--a powerful lineup of innovators, entrepreneurs, financiers, and executives--but to connect and collaborate with the promise of creating the next big thing.

The timing was right for such a gathering. Over the past few years, there has been a brighter spotlight on the lack of diversity within the tech sector across the board such as our 2014 report that revealed that the leading tech companies on the S&P 250 did not have any African American corporate directors. Other reports revealed that African Americans comprise less than 2% of the workforce at some of the leading tech companies within and outside of the Valley. Recently, companies such as Intel, Google, and Pinterest have initiated measures to diversify payrolls and create employment pipelines.

There will be 1.4 million tech jobs by 2020, according to the Level the Playing Field Institute at a recent Congressional Black Congress diversity in tech summit. TechConneXt, sponsored by AT&T, Intel, Capital One, and EMC, created a platform to promote inclusion in the tech sector and provide pathways for black entrepreneurship throughout the industry. The event also helped facilitate advancing the talent pipeline with college tours of AT&T Foundry and Google headquarters and a two-day hackathon involving five HBCU teams, that was sponsored by Capital One. (See recap of the competition in this issue's BE Smart section.)

To kick off the event, attendees gained the rare opportunity to hear from one of the most powerful executives in Silicon Valley, David Drummond, senior vice president of corporate development at Alphabet, the new parent company of Google, in a one-on-one fireside chat with Carlos Watson, co-founder and CEO of Ozy Media, a "daily digital magazine" that has raised more than $30 million from financial backers (Drummond is one of Ozy's investors). "We need to accelerate it and push it forward," he says of the rise of black entrepreneurship. "One of the things about Silicon Valley that I've always liked is that it has some meritorious elements. But Silicon Valley isn't immune from the realities of the rest of the world." That's why it was vital for TechConneXt to share the opportunities for African American entrepreneurs to gain funding from angel investors and venture capital firms--financing sources that have been, for the most part, inaccessible to black firms. Third-generation venture capitalist Tim Draper, founder of Draper University, a startup boot camp and accelerator, and one of the founders of DFJ, which has invested in companies such as Tesla and Skype, offered insight into his decision-making process during the "Investing in Millennial Tech Stars" session. Sequoia Blodgett, an entrepreneur-in-residence at Draper University and the founder of 7 AM, an online resource for personal development, joined him on stage. Draper seeks transformative vehicles that offer solutions to problems: "I'm looking for that next thing that's way out there. What big business is it going to piss off? The best entrepreneurs can identify what isn't working, many from experience, and they truly believe they can offer a better way." (See sidebar on "How To Deliver a Powerful Pitch to Investors.")

Tech executives and professionals seeking to rise within major corporations or unicorns--startups with valuations that exceed $1 billion--gained strategic advice from sessions such as "Ascending to the C-Suite in Silicon Valley," with rising stars Stacy Brown-Philpot, COO of TaskRabbit, one of the leading service networking sites, and Laurence "Lo" Toney, partner of Google Ventures (see sidebars), as well as "Succeeding in Silicon Valley," in which veterans such as MetricStream CEO Shellye Archambeau and Sphere 3D CEO Eric Kelly shared their insight into the culture of Silicon Valley and how to navigate it for career success.

The event also provided trends which attendees can apply to innovative tech-driven ventures. For instance, in his one-on-one fireside chat with black enterprise CEO Earl "Butch" Graves Jr., Sacramento...

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