To bring more diversity to Silicon Valley, the NewMe Accelerator created a specialized incubator: Eight African-American entrepreneurs spent nine weeks living and working together. CNN’s Soledad O’Brien chronicled their journey in Black in America 4, which premiers November 13. Watch the trailer on CNN.com. Follow NewME Accelerator (@NewMEAccel) on Twitter
Black in America: The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley via cnn/money
8 entrepreneurs diversifying the tech scene via cnn/money
Silicon Valley‘s startup scene is mostly young, male and white. In response, the NewMe incubator brought 8 black entrepreneurs together for a two-month immersion in San Francisco. CNN’s Black in America 4 and CNNMoney will track their journey. Here are their stories, as told to CNNMoney’s Julianne Pepitone.
I am all about personal branding. I have an 11-month-old daughter, and I told my wife that if the domain name was taken, we’re not naming her Kennedy!
I hail from the great Midwest — Detroit specifically — and I love it. People might be surprised to hear it, but Detroit is really starting to build a startup ecosystem. Still, it’s nothing like the environment in Silicon Valley. I knew that if I wanted to get a startup off the ground, I needed to get out and go to events.
It’s so cliche, but I literally launched my startup on a napkin at South by Southwest this past year. It’s called Gokit, and it’s a one-stop shop for your professional online platform. It encompasses who you are professionally, personally and socially — and puts it all in a package that’s downright sexy to look at and share.
I’m turning the big 4-0 this year, and I always joke that I’m AARP old in startup years. I’m nontraditional in that sense, but I see it as an opportunity rather than a hindrance. -As told to CNNMoney staff reporter Julianne Pepitone
I’m a partner in NewMe, along with Angela Benton. A bunch of us startup types knew each other via Twitter. We’re all from different parts of the country, and we knew the best way to get funding was to be in Silicon Valley.
We were also interested in different types of minorities getting a voice. It’s true that race was a main cause, but we’re also talking about women and other groups that are underrepresented in the tech space.
We started kicking around the idea of an accelerator back in February, and the whole thing has moved pretty fast. I’m focusing on managing the house; I will clean the toilets if I have to. We’re trying to make history here.
In addition to helping with the house, I’m participating in NewMe myself. My startup is called Vouch, and with it you can tweet recommendations of a person in your network. It lets others know this person is professional, a great public speaker, an expert in technology — you name it. -As told to CNNMoney staff reporter Julianne Pepitone
My startup, BeCouply, helps couples have epic social lives. I realized there wasn’t a lot out there for couples who don’t want to fall into the trap of dinner and a movie every Friday night.
I got the idea when I met Becky Cruze, my girlfriend and co-founder. I really wanted to impress her by building something we could use, and the more we talked to other couples the more we realized it could be a real business.
BeCouply helps couples discover new date spots and ideas, capture special moments and then connect with their couple friends. Our goal is to have every couple using BeCouply to advance their relationship — both at home on the computer and mobile on the go.
Becky and I are fortunate in that BeCouply is all about having a fun, loving relationship. Ironically enough, before this Becky was working at a law firm that did a lot of divorce cases! -As told to CNNMoney staff reporter Julianne Pepitone
After graduating from high school, I was living a seriously bum life. I was sitting around doing nothing on the couch, playing the video games I’d loved for years. Eventually I knew I had to change something, and I had an itch to start creating.
I started contributing a lot of content on forums for a certain video game website, and my commentary attracted so much attention that I brought the site a lot of extra traffic. I figured, if this is going so well, then I might as well do it myself. So I started The Koalition, a gaming site aimed at urban youth. It was a new approach, and it really took off.
I started working with some other startups, which was great, but I still wanted to do stuff with video games. I thought, why not an app? That’s how Playd was born.
Playd is like Foursquare for gamers: You can “check in” when you’re playing a game on a console or your phone, and rate how much you like it. You can also discuss and share with your friends. We’re launching a beta test in August. It hasn’t been easy, but I am so excited. -As told to CNNMoney staff reporter Julianne Pepitone
I’ve been programming ever since I was a little kid. When I was about six, my parents got me a V-Tech Precomputer 1000, a computer-type toy. I got bored with the games and checked out the manual, which explained ways to program with QBasic. Many years later, I ended up getting a full ride to Howard University for computer science.
I interned at IBM, then twice at HP. At IBM it was a team of all white guys. I could tell they had never worked with a woman, or a minority. They would make little jokes. It’s never everybody, but it’s always a few. By the end of my internship, they said I fit in because I learned to talk about Porsches and golf.
I graduated from school in 2008 and took about 18 months off. Then I picked up a job as a Web developer for my uncle’s company, a government contractor. It was fun, but I always thought about doing my own thing. I kept coming back to an idea I had in college. During my senior year, I was really busy and it was tough to make an appointment with my hairstylist. First he missed the call, then I missed the call and we were playing phone tag for a while.
That’s how I came up with Pencil You In: a site where people can book salon appointments online, making the process much easier for customers and businesses. We also help salons expand their social media presence on sites like Twitter and Facebook.
Coming in as a double minority — a black woman — has been tough in the tech space. It’s also hard being located in North Carolina. I live about an hour from Raleigh and Durham, where there’s a pretty healthy VC community. But the tech scene there is just as homogenous in some respects, plus you just don’t have the access to people like you do in Silicon Valley. It’s been great to talk to these big names — and to show that a lot of us in the tech space might not fit the image of what you’d expect. -As told to CNNMoney staff reporter Julianne Pepitone
“I’ve started several tech companies. My biggest was an Internet radio company called Clickradio, which I launched in 2000. It was somewhat like Pandora; you could give a song a thumbs up or thumbs down, and learn more about the artist. We scored licensing deals with the big five music studios and secured $40 million in funding.
But when the dot-com bubble began to burst, Clickradio wasn’t able to reach full velocity. I left the company in early 2001. That was disappointing, but it’s just another in a long string of ventures for me.
My current company is Kloud.co, which puts all your personal data in the cloud and lets you search it. It’s like a Google search engine for your information universe. You can explore your e-mails, tweets, documents, contacts, calendar and more.
We’re starting with this consumer product, but I definitely plan to expand into companies. It does seem like the way to get attention is to start with consumer and move to enterprise. -As told to CNNMoney staff reporter Julianne Pepitone
Last year I quit my job at a hedge fund to start my own company with a co-founder, who happens to be my girlfriend Alisa Boguslavskaya.
A friend of ours in North Carolina was in a lot of pain and needed to pick up some Tylenol, but he didn’t have a way to get there. It would’ve been great if someone who lived in his area and was already out shopping could have bought Tylenol for him.
So Alisa and I founded Fetchmob, a site where users can post shopping requests for friends to take on. Maybe your friend is at the grocery store and wouldn’t mind picking up some tomatoes for you. Or you could drop off an item for another student in your dorm. It’s all about making it simpler to help your friends and people who live near you.
I’m so excited about the idea of the accelerator. [Tech entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa has said] we need a black Zuckerberg. Not one or two minor successes; someone who just takes any misconceptions and smashes them to bits. -As told to CNNMoney staff reporter Julianne Pepitone
Four years ago, I was trying to do research before my first day at a new job about what black-focused companies were doing in the tech space. I checked all the tech blogs, and I could barely find anything — even about big companies like BET, which is owned by Viacom.
In response, I started Black Web 2.0 in 2007. It’s solely about what African-Americans are doing in technology and new media. It really took off and developed a strong community that exists to this day.
Wayne Sutton was an early reader, and he and I developed a relationship via social media. We talked a lot about how it seemed like people were waiting for something. That they felt physically disconnected from the strong startup environment in Silicon Valley. That people needed someone to step up.
We got the idea of creating a “startup house” to get people out to California, and that eventually morphed into NewMe. Wayne and I put the whole thing together in three months, which shows how well we work together as a team.
Running the accelerator and my own startup has been a lot to balance, and some days are better balanced than others. I’m working on Cued, an app that gives you recommendations based on where you are, what you like and your past experiences. For example, if you tell Cued that you like a specific bar and you also like karaoke and draft beer, the system will make recommendations for more places you’ll like. -As told to CNNMoney staff reporter Julianne Pepitone <
War of words breaks out over Silicon Valley diversity debate
By Laurie Segall @CNNMoneyTech
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Weeks ahead of the premiere of a CNN documentary focusing on diversity in the tech industry, the charged issue is already generating sparks. A heated debate broke out on Twitter Wednesday night after a preview screening of Black in America 4.
Blogger-turned-investor Michael Arrington ignited a controversy with his comments about the visibility of minority-led companies. In the documentary, which airs November 13, Arrington talked about his difficulties finding African-American entrepreneurs to launch their ventures at his TechCrunch Disrupt conference — and suggested he would accept almost any black entrepreneur, regardless of merit.
“There’s a guy, actually, his last company just launched at our event, and he’s African-American. When he asked to launch — actually, I think it was the other way around. I think I begged him,” Arrington told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien.
“His startup’s really cool. But he could’ve launched a clown show on stage, and I would’ve put him up there, absolutely,” Arrington said. “I think it’s the first time we’ve had an African-American [be] the sole founder.”
It’s a remark that didn’t sit well with some in the tech community. Female and black entrepreneurs fired off tweets saying they didn’t want to be treated any differently because of their skin color or gender.
Arrington, who has not yet seen the finished documentary, mounted a vigorous defense on Twitter. About two-thirds of his Crunchfund investments so far have gone to female or minority-led ventures, he said — and the entrepreneurs landed the cash solely on the strength of their ideas.
“We funded 100% of the black founders who’ve pitched us (2). And it had nothing to do with skin color,” Arrington wrote.
But he also maintained that women and minorities no longer face any extra obstacles in the tech industry. In his words: “there’s zero race or sex bias in silicon valley.”
Dozens of commenters fired back against that remark.
“Even after all this time, still amazes me when @arrington presumes to speak as an authority on the experiences of women & people of color,” Anil Dash, a prominent blogger and veteran of the startup scene, tweeted back at Arrington. “You’re saying ‘women and people of color never have issues in SV’ but how could you possibly know that?”
There’s plenty of evidence that active — if often subconscious — bias plays a role. Legendary investor John Doerr made a telling, offhand remark a few years ago at a venture capital conference. He observed that the “world’s greatest entrepreneurs” are almost all “white, male, nerds who’ve dropped out of Harvard or Stanford.”
“When I see that pattern coming in — which was true of Google — it was very easy to decide to invest,” he added.
“I have personally experienced the discrimination and bigotry,” tech industry researcher and writer Vivek Wadhwa tweeted back at Arrington. “Know what it feels like and how it discourages.”
In CNN’s documentary, The New Promised Land: Silicon Valley, Wadhwa made similar remarks.
“When I did raise venture capital, my buddies’ advice to me was, they said, ‘Get a white guy to be your front man.’ And I did that. I hired a very impressive, six-foot-tall, impressive, polished white guy, and let him do all the talking,” Wadhwa told a group of aspiring entrepreneurs. “That’s the way the system works here. You might as well understand it, and then use it to your advantage.”
But Arrington made a second point on Twitter that touched nerves: He thinks the pendulum has swung the other way, and that female and minority entrepreneurs now get an extra boost from investors “dying” to diversify their portfolios.
That kicked off a wide-ranging discussion on Twitter. Is there a “negative” bias in Silicon Valley? Are women and minorities given an extra edge because the tech scene needs more diversity?
And, taking the issue a step further, where are the roots of the problem? Is it that venture capitalists shy away from funding minorities, or are there too few minorities entering the field?
“The problem isn’t there is barriers, the problem is that they aren’t entering the field in the first place,” college student and self-described “startup enthusiast” Mikey Tom opined.
The New Promised Land: Silicon Valley, the fourth installment in CNN’s Black in America series, will premiere November 13 at 8 p.m. ET. Watch the trailer on CNN.com, and check out CNNMoney’s full coverage of the project.
Racism in tech
By Brad Feld, contributor | cnn/money
There was a huge kerfluffle over the weekend about racism in Silicon Valley which tried to end when Michael Arrington wrote a post titled Oh Shit, I’m A Racist. But it didn’t end – on Monday there were stories by CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien defending herself with an article titled Michael Arrington is right (about one thing) and then a well reasoned post by Mitch Kapor titled Beyond Arrington and CNN, Let’s Look at the Real Issues. And I’m sure there will be more posts, including this one.
If you don’t know me, I’m white, Jewish, second generation American, born in Arkansas, grew up in Dallas, lived in Boston for 12 years and now live in Boulder, Colorado. My grandparents immigrated from Russia, Germany, and Austria – there were people in those countries trying really hard to kill them before they managed to immigrate to America. I say this not because I’m going to prognosticate about racism, but rather I’m going to tell a story. Of something that happened last week. Just to remind all of us that racism is alive and well in the U.S. and in tech.
On Thursday, I got a call from a CEO of company I’m on the board of. He was very upset as he relayed a story to me. He had just heard from one of his employees who had been at a customer site for the past three days with another employee. The first person (person A) is white; the second is Indian (person B). The customer site is a government-owned military installation.
Upon arrival, the customer would not shake hands with B. The customer would not acknowledge B’s presence directly. Over the course of the three days, the customer made endless racial and ethnic slurs directed at B. While it was extremely uncomfortable, A and B did their work, put up with the nonsense and were professional.
While the CEO was relaying this to me, I was pacing outside a room that I was about to give a talk in. I was furious at the customer. I was sad that A and B hadn’t called the CEO immediately – I know he would have told them to pack it up and come home right away and he’d deal with the customer directly. The notion that B, and A, had to put up with racist behavior for three days was appalling to me. Especially at a government facility. In the United States. In 2011. In the tech business.
Everyone on this planet gets to believe what they want to believe, but I’ll assert that racism is alive and well in the U.S. I’ve seen it many times, including in Silicon Valley. Rather than get into arguments about the existence, or lack thereof, I’d encourage anyone who cares about this to listen to some wise words from Mitch Kapor.
“Being meritocratic is a really worthy aspiration, but will require active mitigation of individual and organizational bias. The operation of hidden bias in our cognitive apparatus is a well-documented phenomenon in neuroscience. We may think we are acting rationally and objectively, but our brains deceive us.”
When you see racism, don’t tolerate it. Take action. And don’t deny reality.
Brad Feld (@bfeld) has been an early stage investor and entrepreneur for over twenty years. Prior to co-founding Foundry Group, he co-founded Mobius Venture Capital and, prior to that, founded Intensity Ventures, a company that helped launch and operate software companies. Brad is also a co-founder of TechStars, and blogs at www.feld.com
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Tags: NewMe Accelerator, Silicon Valley, Brad Feld, Angela Benton, Cued, Black Web 2.0, cnn money, Wayne Sutton, Vouch, NewMe, #cnnmoney, VC discrimination, #techracism, tech diversity, @NewMEAccel, Discrimination Lawsuits, Racial Hiring Quotas, Civil Rights,