Black Tech Week has wrapped in Miami, with nearly 1,600 attendees from across the country and beyond, having passed through the 2nd annual event devoted to technology, entrepreneurship, creativity and more.
From sessions on funding start-ups, to youth functions and a women's innovation brunch that closed the summit, participants expressed enthusiasm about the thought-provoking dialogue experienced at this cultural conference. That dovetails with the vision of event co-founders Felecia Hatcher and Derick Pearson who aim to move the needle forward in terms of growing Black entrepreneurship in the tech sphere.
"To see all these innovators in a room and people who look like you is inspiring," said Barbara Jacques, CEO of Jacq's Organics, an e-commerce site that carries cleansers, face oils, and other natural beauty products. "It's empowering," said the Haitian-American entrepreneur, who was a panelist at Saturday's women's tech celebration.
Benjamin Evans, Managing Director of BMe Community in Miami, part of a national organization that works to uplift and create more positive perceptions about Black men, agreed. Evans said he hopes gatherings like these will inspire the African American community to "change from being consumers of social media and technology to creators."
"Blacks and Hispanics will make up 42 percent of the U.S. population in the next 20 years," said Evans. "When you've got an industry that's working on innovations to help build communities, it's important to make sure that those within that industry itself are representative of the community."
"Diversity in tech is extremely lacking. I believe that the tech sector should look like the diverse population of the community it serves. Black Tech Week is leading the way to make sure that happens.”
The conference, sponsored by Knight Foundation, Dell and others, was held primarily on the campus of Florida International University, and was complemented by another tech confab last week hosted by Power Moves, a national initiative to increase the number of venture backed minority businesses in America.
Black Tech Week attendees also participated in a chat with the team from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. Panelists included the head of that endeavor, David Johns, who called for an increase of STEM education in communities of color.
And White House staffer Marvin Carr, Ph.D., a technology policy advisor who is also part of President Obama's 'My Brother's Keeper' efforts, took part in a session that focused on opportunities for ex-offenders in the tech arena.
The series of events drew a crowd of multi-generational participants, from millennials like Los Angeles resident Justin Washington, 27, an engineer at Snapchat; to Baby Boomers such as Michael and Donata Ross, an entrepreneur couple from Atlanta.
NBC BLK spoke to other voices in the crowd as well.
1. Nick Muldrow, 24, Philadelphia, @NickSwaggyGoof
The 2014 graduate of Temple University has created a start-up called "StadiumDrop." He describes his company as a merchandise delivery operation wherein sports stadiums fans can order and purchase merchandise from their seat via an app.
“It's a breath of fresh air to be among so many African-American entrepreneurs,” said Muldrow. “A lot of young Blacks look at sports and entertainment [for wealth]. But when you see other cultures, you see about names like Mark Cuban and Richard Branson who are in business. I believe there should be more emphasis on entrepreneurism in the African-American community.”
2. Rafael Rodriguez, 43, New York
This entrepreneur says he holds a patent for a head-mounted display that looks similar to Google glasses. It would help physicians "efficiently and effectively" view the medical records of patients and their charts. He called the conference a special event. "It's great to see so many people coming together to make things happen.”
3. Crystal McDonald, 34, New York, @GoToCrystal
McDonald developed and heads a web-based on-demand video interviewing technology called Gotointerview.com.
“Employers access our database of talent seekers," she said, noting they focus on retail, hospitality and the beverage industry, among others.
4. Valerie Greene, 32, Sacramento, CA, @ValerieComplex
Green came to the conference as a representative for `Black Girl Nerds.' She's also created her own website, animecomplexium.com, which targets the demographic of Black nerds and other people of color who enjoy cosplay (creating and wearing costumes based on anime and animated characters) in cyberspace.
"Ever since comic books and anime movies became mainstream, you have fans who want to dress up in costumes, attend the conventions like ComicCon and so on. But there's not always acceptance of Black people doing this, especially women. I'm trying to empower people of color who roam in the nerd spaces online."
5. Lance Lucas, Baltimore, Md, @DigitAllSystems
Lucas is a national tech consultant who founded and heads Digit All Systems. The nonprofit offers computer programming certification courses to underserved communities. "What we are doing in tech has the ability to change the Black community. I am training young black men, single mothers. They are getting hired immediately by top companies, government agencies -- It's revolutionary."
6. Michael W. Hall, 36, Fort Lauderdale, @michaelhallTM
CEO of Digital Grass Innovation & Technology. "My company is dedicated to establishing a diverse ecosystem that will create more African American tech entrepreneurs. We provide access to mentors, investors, help with business development for women and minorities."
Adds Felecia Daniel, an attorney and Vice President of Outreach at Digital Grass, "Ultimately, it's about building power and wealth in our communities. This entire conference has been phenomenal. I can't wait until next year!"