What Philly Can Learn From Miami’s BlackTech Week
Stimulus founder and CEO Tiffanie Stanard attended the national event this month and has some important takeaways for Philadelphia’s tech community.
This month I had the opportunity to speak at Miami’s 2018 BlackTech Week for the first time, and after the experience, it’s clear that Philadelphia, which wants to start up its own national tech conference, can learn a lot from what’s been started up in Miami.
I met the founders, husband and wife duo Felicia Hatcher and Derick Pearson during SXSW 2017. We kept in touch to discuss speaking opportunities and landed on the topic of how startups can align with corporations and government.
The panel was titled, “Can Government Contracts Bootstrap Your Startup or Small Business?” I spoke on stage alongside Brandon Andrews, an entrepreneur and consultant; Tim Thompson, a business consultant and disaster recovery specialist; Sheri Colas-Gervais, vice president of economic development and urban intiatiatives for the Miami Dade Beacon Council; and Kathy Porter, the director of small business and vendor diversity relations at the University of Florida.
During the discussion we broke down government contracts and how startups can get a piece of the $59 billion pie. Raising funds as a black founder is not easy, and our talk made emphasized how obtaining big customers like government is key to maintaining a thriving business, particularly for black founders.
While it was great to see a number of Philly leaders represented in Miami, the conference definitely reminded me of what’s missing in our city. Here are my takeaways:
The Tech Community Should Feel Like a Family, for Everyone
BlackTech Week is marketed as “Our Fam Reunion” and it truly felt that way. It was likely complete strangers became your favorite cousin, but instead of them asking you for money, everyone was successful and looking to support others. Unfortunately, I’ve never had this feeling with the Philly tech scene. You see the same people around at events, but they’ve never felt like family.
We Need More Angel and VC Investors in Black Communities
The following statement from founder Felicia Hatcher resonated with me: “Raising money doesn’t come as easy in communities of color. We often joke that the only thing our friends and family can gives us is a round of applause.” I attended multiple dinners with investors and enjoyed hearing them say on the spot that they’re looking to invest. They even asked questions about how they could help each founder. Let me think of how many times that has happened in Philly…
Recognize the Scope of What Black Founders Can Create
There is a myth that people of color will only focus on companies for people of color. And, of course, it makes sense for us to have products for us by us, because who else will create them? But at BlackTech Week we heard from founders who are creating amazing multi-million dollar companies in industries like facial recognition, data over audio, legal, and more. None of these industries are race or gender specific.
Sometimes race can be a factor that “separates” us, but the love of technology is a universal language that can unite us and help communities. Maybe because the fact that we all looked alike made BlackTech Week feel more comfortable than most other conferences I’ve attended. But it also underscored the fact that we, too, are innovative and can achieve great things in tech.
As we’ve seen from recent controversial conversations during previous conference and events like PSL’s Diversity Dinner, when support is not there for diverse communities, negative outcomes and reactions will come about. We still have a lot of work to do, Philly.
All in all, BlackTech Week taught me that, for black founders and all founders, your tribe is essential.