Monday evening in the Mayor’s Reception Room on the second floor of City Hall, Mayor Michael Nutter and more than 30 influential African-American technologists watched a screening of the fourth installment of Soledad O’Brien’s Black In America documentary series.
The latest episode turned the spotlight on a lack of black entrepreneurs in the technology industry, focusing on eight minority entrepreneurs entered in the NewME Accelerator that are hoping to get recognized, and get funded, in Silicon Valley.
According to the documentary, less than one percent of funded tech startups are African-American owned.
After the screening, the Mayor and the attendees discussed ways to improve that statistic.
The conversation was moderated by Chief Technology Officer Navarrow Wright, who leads technology initiatives at Interactive One, the web branch of Radio One, an African-American-focused media outlet which owns 69 radio stations across the country. Navarrow was a mentor for the NewMe Accelerator entrepreneurs featured in the documentary.
Starting the conversation, Mayor Nutter asked how black entrepreneurs could improve their chances in Philadelphia’s technology community. “I’m not moving to Silicon Valley,” he said.
The group identified a number of core priorities, noted after the jump.
- Focus on the successes — There are plenty of African-American entrepreneur success stories, but there’s a lack of coverage. “We need to find creative ways to highlight them,” Wright says.
- Create role models — It was mentioned several times that black youth look for role models in entertainment and athletics industries. How can the community bring tech entrepreneurs into that paradigm?
- Improve education standards — Math and science education needs to improve in schools in order to create quality engineers. Entrepreneurship skills, like knowing the language of how to ask for investment, are also important.
- Improve digital literacy — Beyond practical knowledge brought by education, the teaching of “the value of an Internet connection,” as Wright put it, is crucial. “[African-Americans] lead social and mobile trends, but we don’t make the leap that we can create an app,” he said.
- Bootstrap — There’s few tech funding resources dedicated specifically to minorities [This summer, DreamIt Ventures and Ben Franklin Technology Partners launched a special track for minority entrepreneurs for the Fall 2011 class, as we reported.]. It’s possible to build a product that solves a problem and can build a sustainable customer base without raising money.
The documentary has made headlines recently in part because of TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington’s controversial remarks during the episode, suggesting that that he didn’t know a single black entrepreneur. O’Brien followed-on that firestorm with commentary to try to refocus attention on the issue rather than the argument.
The documentary will air on CNN again Nov. 24 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. It was first screened locally last week to a group of 200 students at Mastery Charter School in partnership with VILLA, the Philadelphia-based urban retailer.
See a preview of the documentary below: