Exactly how important is social media to achieving success for your start-up business? How can we get more African Americans educated on the benefits of technology? What are the emerging business opportunities enabled by broadband? A panel of broadband industry experts recently addressed these and other important questions at the Black Women’s Roundtable’s financial workshop, Linking Broadband Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship during its Women of Power National Summit.
The panel was moderated by Joint Center Media and Technology Institute Vice President Nicol Turner-Lee, Ph.D, and included Politic365 Publisher Kristal High, Semantic Labs Co-Founder and CEO York Eggleston, Wilco Systems President Brigette Daniel, and Black Women’s Roundtable Telecommunications Policy Advisor Joycelyn Tate.
Showing small business owners how to use broadband and social media strategically was just one pearl of wisdom shared by panelists. Dr. Turner-Lee posed other provocative questions such as: How is technology impacting society, and what is the unique benefit of technology access for African Americans? How can technology be leveraged to develop or expand new businesses? What holds our communities back from embracing new technology? How can we advance technology adoption in our communities?
Joycelyn Tate insists that any organization, no matter how small, can – and should – have a social media strategy. “All you need is to invest twenty minutes, three times a week,” said Tate, who shared her small business tips with workshop attendees.
York Eggleston shared his idea commercialization software company’s unique approach to incubating start-up companies. “At Semantic Labs, we take leading edge technology and develop unique products and services; then we take those products and services and build companies around them.”
One theme that emerged from the experts and from questions posed by workshop attendees is that black businesses must move from being just consumers of broadband and technology to innovators and savvy users of technology in their businesses. This is true whether your business is a software or technology start-up or a home-based business supplying hair care products.
Brigitte Daniel explained how a home-based retail business can create a presence far beyond its walls by using broadband-enabled software to manage inventory and distribute products, and by incorporating a social media strategy into the company’s business plans.
Making Innovation Trump Consumption
Eggleston and his business partners take a unique interest in assisting minority entrepreneurs in commercializing their ideas and getting them to the marketplace, in part out of a commitment to the minority community, but also because of the tremendous barriers that African Americans have in getting funding, mentoring, and incubation support from Silicon Valley firms.
Lauding efforts by the civil rights community to bridge the digital divide and to break down the glass ceiling barrier for black and other minority technology entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, Eggleston identified a deeper obstacle: consumerism.
“If African Americans and are going to succeed, we have to put our heads together and figure out how to get people engaged about innovation creation and ownership versus consumption,” he said. We can’t wait for public policy or schools to figure it out – we have to meet people where they are. The civil rights groups have good intentions, but they can’t do it alone. They need to know what to do and how to support technology entrepreneurship and leverage innovation for the benefit of the masses”
Pattern Matching: Turning an Obstacle into an Opportunity for Minority Tech Entrepreneurs
Panelists discussed the difficulties that black entrepreneurs in general, and black tech entrepreneurs in particular, experience in finding support and funding for their ideas. One obstacle discussed was the concept of pattern matching, considered by some in the high tech industry to be just short of a Silicon Valley version of racial profiling.
“In Silicon Valley, ‘pattern matching’ is tantamount to profiling technology entrepreneurs in a way that excludes minorities from even being able to get their foot in the door,” shared Eggleston.
In simple terms, pattern matching is a rule-of-thumb evaluation tool often used by venture capital firms which evaluate a start-up business’s propensity for success based on what has worked before. Eggleston says that this approach tends to work against African American technology entrepreneurs for the simple reason that there are few success models to point to. One often-cited “pattern” is the “Ivy-league dropout, twenty-something” pattern or model, referring to Facebook, which was started by white Harvard drop-out, Mark Zuckerberg.
There are solutions to this problem, however. In his article “How Pattern-Matching Can Work for Minority Entrepreneurs,” where minority tech entrepreneur Ameen Safir writes about how minorities should try to use pattern matching to their advantage in attracting funding from venture capitalists.
Although the difficulties faced by minority tech entrepreneurs have been widely researched and publicized (the San Jose Mercury News and CNN’s Black in America series both deeply analyze Silicon Valley’s racial disparities), we are still seeking solutions to the problem. Part II of this series will discuss solutions put forth by panelists at the Linking Broadband Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship workshop.
- Maurita Coley, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of MMTC, is the former Executive Director of Capital Area Asset Builders and a former Partner at the Davis Wright Tremaine Law and Cole Raywid & Braverman law firms. She earned her law degree from Georgetown Law where she was a recipient of the 2011 Paul R. Dean Award, and she holds a BA in Communications from Michigan State University. Coley served on the BET executive management team in the 1990’s.