Close your eyes and picture a typical “tech entrepreneur.” If you always see a 20something white man – perhaps a hoodie is involved – you are not alone, and PowerMoves, Black Tech Week, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Case Foundation and many other organizations want to change that.
The statistics are alarming. As the second annual Black Tech Week got underway in Miami, and PowerMoves Miami launched its operations with a bootcamp and pitch contests, a new study recently surfaced that showed that of the 10,000-plus venture deals sealed from 2012 to 2014, just 24 of them were led by black women founders. Of those few that have raised money, the average amount of funding was just $36,000, even though black women comprise the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S., according to the report, Project Diane by Digital Undivided. It calls black women founders “the real unicorns of tech.”
The statistics are only a little better for all minority entrepreneurs. PowerMoves, an entrepreneurship organization for entrepreneurs of color that just launched in Miami through Knight Foundation support, offers these numbers: While African-American and Hispanic students earn nearly 20 percent of computer science degrees, they make up only 9 percent of the technology industry and less than 1 percent of technology company founders. To help close this gap, PowerMoves is connecting entrepreneurs of color to mentors, capital, support and investment opportunities. The initiative launched in New Orleans in 2014 and now expanding nationally – including its new office at WeWork South Beach – has helped roughly 100 companies from across the country secure more than $27 million in capital commitments, the organization said.
This week, in partnership with Black Tech Week, PowerMoves held a three-day bootcamp for about 15 entrepreneurs that will culminate in a demo day open to the public Wednesday morning at the Fontainebleau. On Tuesday PowerMoves held two pitch competitions for eight selected entrepreneurs around the country, including two teams from South Florida: Court Buddy, a Miami-based matching service for a la carte legal services, and Kweak, a video messaging platform company based in Miami and Berlin. Taking home $25,000 each were Better Weekdays, a mobile job-matching platform, and Virgil, a mobile-first career navigation platform.
“I was blown away by the ideas and the execution of the ideas so far. The ideas presented not only solved big social problems but would have great multiplier effects,” said Carla Harris, a judge in the pitch contest and vice chairman of wealth management for Morgan Stanley, presenting sponsor of the event. She sees a long future for PowerMoves in Miami building a pipeline of entrepreneurs of color: “It is my thought that this will become the place for sophisticated investors who are looking for next generation technology and are specifically looking for entrepreneurs of color – they will have to come to PowerMoves to find them.”
The Case Foundation has also been a partner of PowerMoves for about a year and a half. Started by AOL founder Steve Case and his wife Jean, the foundation has been leading entrepreneurship initiatives for decades. “But we really got to this point where the American Dream seemed to be fading; there was a full series of entrepreneurs that were being left on the sideline,” said Sheila Herrling, senior vice present of social innovation for the foundation. "How could we exploit this potential to drive the economy, to drive jobs, to drive ideas, and source them from all places and all people?"
The Project Diane report found that just 11 black female founders raised more than $1 million. “Four of them are PowerMoves alumni,” said Herrling. “There is a secret sauce in that. Something is working. I'm optimistic we're going to level the playing field.”
The big goal: When you think of an entrepreneur, she said, “that face that comes to you has just as much of a chance of being a women or an entrepreneur of color as the white guy in the hoodie.”
The second annual Black Tech Week, a series of networking and educational events, investor meetups, youth events and panel discussions open to all, moves into high gear Wednesday evening with the start of its 2 1/2 day summit at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay campus, featuring a speaker roster of entrepreneurs, executives and investors from around the world. Find the schedule and buy tickets at blacktechweek.com.