Tech Coalition Will Honor 10 Black Innovators at SXSW

NBCBLK is a sponsor of MVMT50 at SXSW

What do a vocal diversity in tech advocate, an eleven-year-old entrepreneur, an HBCU professor and a tech novice all have in common?

They are just four of the ten men and women of color that will be recognized for their innovative ways and examples within the tech industry as part of the MVMT50 Experience at a South by Southwest (SXSW) Welcome Reception in Austin, Texas tonight.

Tens of thousands are converging upon the city for the kickoff of the Interactive portion of the multifaceted festival. President Obama will make the Keynote Speech this afternoon.

MVMT50 is a coalition committed to improving employment diversity, cultural representation and leadership development in the innovation, technology and digital sectors. And as their tagline says quite simply, they are "a think space for Black innovators."

Donell Creech, MVMT50 founder, said what made these ten stand out is the way in which they recognized a problem within the African American community and created a solution.

"We give the award based off of what was done in the previous year, for how they made a difference and an impact," Creech told NBCBLK. "Rather than standing around and being upset, they saw a problem and decided to solve it. That is what make them innovators."

The Top 10 Innovators of The Year were chosen from 29 individuals profiled throughout the month of February by MVMT50, all leaders breaking barriers and creating opportunities in the tech industry.

Autumn Caviness, interim director of the W.E.B. DuBois Honors program at Huston-Tillotson University, is one of the awardees this year. She said she does not consider herself an innovator.

"I am just someone who wants my students of color to have the best opportunities," she told NBCBLK.

What is important to her, she said, is that her students at the predominantly black institution know that they have options.

"I want them to understand their minds can make a difference in the tech world," she said. "I want students of color, in particular, to see themselves as more than just consumers of technology, but also creators of technology as well."

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Leslie Miley, the former Twitter engineer who this past year became one of the loudest critics of the lack of diversity in leadership throughout the tech industry, is also being recognized. While he also does not consider himself an innovator, he recognizes that what he did when he left Twitter resonated with others.

"I think there are many more people who are really doing a lot and harder work than what I am doing," he said. "I did not plan to do anything except tell my story [when I left Twitter]. I think [what I did] resonated [with a lot of people] because they felt the same way."

This year Caviness will also run the second annual <div> hackathon during SXSW Interactive. It is the only youth organized and operated hackathon in the country. Students will have 48 hours to be placed into five teams to develop a mobile app to solve a problem in the business, education, entertainment or health and fitness industries. They will be paired with mentors, including Miley, to work on their ideas.

Participants do not have to have coding experience, they just have to have an idea and a hunger. And it is that hunger, Caviness said, that is the drive for most of her students.

Creech said events like the <div> hackathon help to dispel certain myths about the black community, like that tech is a "white thing" and that black folks are not smart enough to create and develop in technology.

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"We are the original hackers," he said. "We bend things to our wheel. So we are trying to get black folks to not be afraid of the words 'technology' and 'innovation.'"

And that is the purpose of MVMT50 - to uplift blacks and convince the community that technology and innovation are the best places for the community to focus its efforts.

"We can use the same tools in the tech space to solve our own problems instead of looking for others outside of our community," Creech added. "In the next 50 years - the civil rights movement will take place in the tech world."

Check out the full list of honorees:

Leslie Miley, Director of Engineering, Entelo - @Shaft

Lesley Miley, former software engineer at Twitter Courtesy Lesley Miley

Dr. Tausha Robertson, Founder, Primpii App, - @tausharobertson


George Kiel, Editor-in-Chief, Nice Kicks LLC - @geokthree

Autumn Caviness, Huston-Tillotson University, W.E.B Du Bois Honors Program, Interim Assistant Director - @iChangedTheGame

Sheena Allen, Founder/CEO of mobile application company,

Sheena Allen Apps - @WhoIsSheena

Brian Brackeen, Founder of Kairos Inc, an innovative facial recognition company - @BrianBrackeen

Stephanie Lampkin, Founder/CEO, Blendoor - @stephaneurial

Mikaila Ulmer, Founder, Bee Sweet Lemonade - @LoveBeeSweet

Morgan DeBaun, Founder, Blavity - @MorganDeBaun

Jewel Burks, Founder/CEO, PartPic - @jewelmelanie

This article was first published on March 2, 2016