It’s been a year since the summer of protests that followed the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and too many others. Following the protests and rekindled Black Lives Matter movement in June 2020, tech companies and workforces joined businesses around the country to form new initiatives with the goal of creating more equitable outcomes in the tech industry.
A lot has happened this year, so we took a look through our last year of reporting to round up local initiatives that are bridging the gaps that cause disparities. Each of these has a stat behind it: Only 1% of founders that receive funding and 3% of venture capitalists nationally are Black. The number of Black and Latinx technical workers at major tech companies only rose by less than one percent since 2014. In each, however, there are also solutions.
To be sure, the city has a number of initiatives that were working on expanding entrepreneurship and opportunity in the city while centering racial equity before June 2020 and continue to do so, like Innovation Works, Conscious Venture Lab, CLLCTIVLY, Community Wealth Builders and the Baltimore Legacy Builders Collective. And there were responses from companies in the immediate wake of the protests that put existing programs toward the moment, like microgrants from SmartLogic and matching funds from Fearless for local Black-led nonprofits.
But looking at the larger intiatives formed in the last year offers a window into what got started when the energy toward change was at its height, and how that momentum sustained. It’s also a baseline: With this June’s Racial Equity in Tech Month at Technical.ly, we’re looking to check in on progress made by such initaitives.
Here’s the list:
Spearheaded by leaders from tech companies including Protenus, SmartLogic, b.well, Mindgrub and Think|Stack, a coalition of Baltimore’s growth tech companies and startups alike banded together with the goal of increasing opportunity for people of color in tech, and bolstering diversity and inclusion in the growing segment of the local economy. Since the organization’s inception, it’s had a hand in programs like a summer tech internship program launched with the City’s YouthWorks program, and a job fair that brought diverse talent together with local employers.
A national nonprofit that set out to double the number of Black people in venture capital by 2024 expanded with a new chapter in the region. Launched in October, the DMV chapter brought together an organizing team of prominent local investors, and participation from firms around the community. As DataTribe Chief Customer Officer Maurice Boissiere told Technical.ly in the fall, “the best way to get funding to diverse founders is to have diverse people writing checks.”
Open Society Institute-Baltimore and Baltimore’s Promise joined together to lead this new initiative with a goal of providing flexible funding to promising organizations that have lacked adequate resources to expand their programming and reach more people. It recently awarded 10 orgs a total of $150K each. This shows influential foundations coming together to support a new model not just for solutions, but for funding them, as well. “For too long, Black- and brown-led organizations have been overlooked or grossly underinvested in by philanthropic institutions,” said Danielle Torain, director of Open Society Institute-Baltimore.
As a result of this national intiative’s expansion to the region last fall, 10 students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are working at venture capital firms in the Baltimore-D.C. area through paid fellowships. Squadra Ventures spearheaded the local effort, and underscored an important point: It’s not always necessary to create a brand new intiative to start making change. There’s room to partner and look nationally for best practices, as well.
Launched recently by the Maryland Tech Council and led by former Cybersecurity Association of Maryland, Inc. CEO Stacey Smith, the initiative “will work to identify, facilitate and enable technology-based solutions that enable socioeconomic advancement and empowerment of underrepresented groups who have significant potential,” a news release stated. It held its first virtual event in May 2021, with a focus on changes in the workplace, and society.
The T .Rowe Price Foundation announced donations in February that equate to $825K of its $1.5 million plans to award funding to initiatives working on progress toward racial equity. The prominent investment management company’s foundation is supporting two orgs: The Black Business Initiative, an online hub for entrepreneurs of color, and Baltimore Corps‘ Social Entrepreneur Residencies program.
This new intiative has multiple goals as it seeks to bolster Baltimore’s standing as a startup hub nationally, and it wasn’t explicilty formed in response to the protests. But as it brings the prominent accelerator Techstars to town and convenes leaders to build on the city’s strengths, it is undertaking each part of its work through the lens of equity. As CEO Jamie McDonald explained to us recently, UpSurge wants to make Baltimore the nation’s “equitech” city, prioritizing startups that have diverse teams and leadership, as well as solutions that tackle societal challenges.
-Technical.ly Assistant Editor Stephen Babcock contributed reporting.
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.