Case in point: Just 1% of VC typically goes to Black founders. Jasmyn explained that access to capital can be a barrier into the field for Black technologists and founders — which is disheartening, as tech entrepreneurship provides a significant opportunity to build wealth within the Black community.
That’s part of why she’s grateful to have Google’s support in building a foundation where Black tech pros are supported with a network and funding to further their work.
The plan was for the Thursday evening event to host just 60 guests. But in the end, 120 supporters filled a packed room inside Google’s Bakery Square office. Throughout the night, guests celebrated Black Tech Nation work, heard from local founders, and discussed what they’d like the future of tech in Pittsburgh to look like.
When Jasmyn came to the city in 2016 for Academy Pittsburgh’s web development bootcamp, she realized that connecting with other Black technologists and entrepreneurs was often easier said than done. So, she told the crowd, she created the nonprofit Black Tech Nation to fill an unmet need.
“I started to try to put together a little something for people who looked like me in tech just to nerd out with — you know, folks who understand what I was going through,” Jasmyn said. “And over the last few years, we’ve grown into so much more. A lot of you have been supportive since the very beginning.”
Black Tech Nation spawned Black Tech Nation Ventures, the $50 million fund, in 2021. It’s been making startup investments since last December and continues to grow, thanks in part to funding from corporate partners — including Google.
Whereas the nonprofit had been mostly funded by foundations before, Google represents its first Big Tech partnership, Jasmyn told Technical.ly. Google brings added resources, name recognition, and deeper roots in the nonprofit sector that assist it in being a space for Black entrepreneurs and technologists.
And back in September, Black Tech Nation Ventures was named one of six Black-led venture capital firms in the US to get an investment as a part of $60 million allocated from the Google’s CapitalG investment fund. (Specific financial details were not disclosed.)
Jasmyn already had connections to the company from her time as a technologist, she said Thursday, and thought of Google as she was working on getting support for Black Tech Nation’s expansion.
In the summer of 2020, she found that more companies were more interested in showing financial support.
“In 2020, George Floyd was heinously murdered and I was being approached by people who were finally ready to make that commitment,” Jasmyn said. “Google reached out to us and we had multiple conversations and I told them what my vision was and they liked it. So we decided on a partnership to put a spotlight on existing Black tech entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh, but also continue to support and grow more of them as well.”
Support for Black Tech Nation has gone beyond corporates.
Among the speakers at the celebratory event was Lt. Gov.-Elect Austin Davis, who explained that the event was his first in his recent capacity as the soon-to-be-inaugurated lieutenant governor. During his time as a Pennsylvania state representative, Davis sponsored legislation that supported investments in tech career education and participated in seminars for small businesses in his Mon Valley district.
For this celebration, however, he showed up simply because the influential Jasmyn asked him to, as he told the crowd.
“When Kelauni calls, I listen,” Davis quipped.
Recalling the campaign trail, Davis said he’d had the opportunity to meet with several Black entrepreneurs and looked forward to supporting them in his new position. Still, Davis admitted that in the way of supporting Black entrepreneurs, the Commonwealth still had a long way to go.
“The reality is the state government is far behind his goals in terms of purchasing power, we are the largest buyer in the Commonwealth and we need to put our money where our mouth is,” he said.
Davis praised Black Tech Nation Ventures for being a organization that is already helping Black founders succeed, and pointed to forthcoming state initiatives such as plans to create a Black Business Center and a renewed will from the Department of Community and Economic Development to create instruments that will be used to invest in Black businesses.
“I know we have a lot of work ahead of us over the next four years but I’m confident that together we can make Pennsylvania a leader for Black businesses,” Davis said.
Jim Gibbs, the cofounder and CEO of Meter Feeder, told the crowd that as a Black person in the tech field, sometimes the problem of getting ahead isn’t just imposter syndrome, it’s the erasure. Despite his name being attached to the successful mobile parking platform and being one of the honorees of Google’s 2021 Black Founders Fund, some people still don’t believe that he’s been coding since the 1980s, he said.
Fortunately, though, there were Google employees who could see his potential. Among them were Paul Buchheit, the engineer often credited with developing Gmail, as well as Matt Cutts, another Google engineer who headed up the SafeSearch team. Cutts in particular was Meter Feeder’s second investor.
“Matt Cutts believed in me, the reason why Paul Buchheit believed in me is because I could sit there and talk to him about the art of computer programming,” Gibbs said. “The reason why this [Black Tech Nation Ventures] is so important is because you need to find people who actually believe in us.”
Looking back on the event, Jasmyn told Technical.ly she felt that it was something the community — technologists and Black Pittsburgh as a whole — needed in order to build trust.
Most of all, she wants people to know that the partnership is about Pittsburgh.
“It’s about putting money into communities that need it and giving capital to communities that need it, so that we can level the playing field around opportunities in technology and entrepreneurship,” Jasmyn said.
Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supportedby the Heinz Endowments.