February has long been a month of remembrance and celebration of African-American culture. But with Black Tech Week, an event focusing on technology, entrepreneurship and people of color, author and entrepreneur Felecia Hatcher, wants to change the narrative.
As co-founder of Black Tech Week, she wants a Black History Month 2.0.
“Since I was a kid, when February comes around, there’s always been this acknowledging of African-American culture and the part it has played in the history of the United States,” she said in a recent interview. “But I’ve always found that we celebrated and acknowledged the same history makers with the same kind of events. The idea of Black History Month 2.0 is to highlight people who have done some amazing things with technology, amazing innovators but also, as we celebrate [them], let’s make sure we are equipping our community with all the tools and resources it needs to be able to not just participate in, but drive the innovation economy.”
With that in mind, the 2016 Black Tech Week 3-Day Technology Summit, taking place Feb. 17-19, at the Florida International University, Biscayne Bay Campus in North Miami, brings together black innovators, entrepreneurs and investors for the second year in row. The event—Knight Foundation is the presenting sponsor—ramps up Feb. 14-16 with activities such as startup boot camps, pitch competitions and seaside yoga sessions, and concludes with a Women’s Innovation Brunch at FIU on Feb. 20.
The event attracted about 1,000 participants in its first year and Hatcher hopes to double that number this year. Scheduled speakers include Chinedu Echeruo, CEO and founder of Gigameet.com; Chris Carthern, senior network engineer for the U.S. Department of Defense; Jeff Hoffman, co-founder of Priceline; Maurice Young (Trick Daddy), artist and entrepreneur; Melissa James, president and CEO of The Tech Connection; and Leslie Miley, engineering manager at Twitter.
“Black Tech Week, it’s tremendously important,” said Brian Brackeen, founder and CEO of Kairos.com, a Miami-based human analytics company and a sponsor of Black Tech week. “One of the things [Black Tech Week co-founder] Derick [Pearson] talks about is that when he went online to purchase blacktechweek.com, it was available! That tells you what you need to know. We certainly focus on the community here, in Miami, but in the larger community [this event] is really solving a huge need.”
The lack of diversity has been a glaring issue in the tech industry, with dismal reports of African-Americans and Latinos making up just 4 percent and 5 percent of the overall tech workforce. Last year, Hatcher hosted a community discussion after a survey at Google revealed that just 2 percent of its workforce is black.
Knight’s support for Black Tech Week is just one element of the foundation’s investments in helping to diversify the tech community both in South Florida and nationwide. Knight recently announced support for the Miami launch of PowerMoves, a national initiative to expand the number of high-tech companies led by entrepreneurs of color. Knight is also a supporter of CODE2040, a Bay Area nonprofit that promotes professional development for blacks and Latinos in the tech industry; Digital Grass, a business accelerator in South Florida that focuses on closing the diversity gap; and Hatcher’s Code Fever, which works throughout South Florida to teach students and their parents to become creators of technology.
It is not just a matter of fairness and opportunity, for any business, addressing such an issue would seem a case of enlightened self-interest, Brackeen notes. “You would think [they would want a diverse workforce] because their customers are diverse,” he says. “And you want to serve those customers.”
So while the event has “a commitment to South Florida because it’s our home,” says Hatcher, “our overall goal since we started was to position Black Tech Week to be celebrated globally, just like Global Entrepreneurship Week. We want to celebrate and acknowledge techies and innovators of color during the third week of February every single year; that’s our big, aggressive goal.”
But celebration is only part of the goal of Black Tech Week; there are practical aspects. Hatcher speaks of networking, showcasing innovators before potential investors and “bringing all kind of resources together for people to get, take and run with it, and with that, be able to not only change their own lives but their families and their communities.”
“One thing I’d like to see more of in our community is deal flow,” says Hatcher. “I’d love to get entrepreneurs of color in front of people who have the money and can write a check, can invest in their companies and their ideas, so we can see more scalable and fundable projects in our community. If you are in our community, you usually lack [those] resources or you don’t know those people who have the resources.”
Brackeen, an unabashed champion of Miami’s tech environment, adds that South Florida has “some really amazing things going, some really amazing tech, but some of the investors, especially on the West Coast, simply are not aware of some of the great deals that are originating out of Miami.”
“It’s a great chance for people to get a much better look, up close and personal, not only of the city itself, what we are producing here, the way we think … but also of founders like myself and others that are really doing some really investable, scalable big ideas.”
Hatcher brings it back to a personal level as she recalls a young woman she met last year who wanted to be in technology but didn’t have a technology background. Hatcher says she provided a free pass but only met the woman recently.
“It turns out that she went to Black Tech Week,” Hatcher says, “absorbed everything, … and ended up finding out about Wyncode, [another Knight-supported program]. She did the nine-week [coding boot camp], ended up meeting a CEO of a company and is now a UX designer and a software developer for a technology company. She said that if it wasn’t for Black Tech Week she would have never known what possibilities were available to her.”
Black Tech Week and PowerMoves Miami will host an opening reception from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. RSVP to the event here.