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5 technologists and ecosystem builders we met at AfroTech’s Baltimore event

Here’s a glimpse of a Technical.ly reporter’s conversations at a special happy hour from the global Black innovators-focused network and a Baltimore-based company.

Attendees at the 2023 AfroTech Baltimore Happy Hour. (Technical.ly/Alanah Nichole Davis)
Full disclosure: This editorial article covers an event involving Fearless and TEDCO, which are both Technical.ly clients. Neither of these client relationships impacted this report.

As the sun dipped below the horizon in Fells Point, beside a pool bar and grill on Thames Street, Baltimore City Delegate Marlon Amprey and Fearless founder and CEO Delali Dzirasa welcomed a diverse crowd of over 100 attendees to a meetup whose event invite described it as a gathering of local trailblazers, creatives and tech innovators.

This was the scene on Sept. 14 as the AfroTech Baltimore Happy Hour unfolded at the Sagamore Pendry Hotel, drawing in founders, technologists and ecosystem builders from throughout the region. This event — presented by Fearless and supported by Latimer Ventures, TEDCO and an entity called the Maryland Tech Ecosystem — provided a unique networking opportunity for those deeply engaged in the realms of technology and entrepreneurship.

Technical.ly’s Lead Reporter Alanah Nichole Davis was present at the event, which came ahead of AfroTech’s conference in Austin, Texas in November. During her time there, she engaged in discussions with a diverse group, including founders, aspiring technologists and individuals who are staunch supporters of Baltimore’s well-established tech ecosystem. Here are five Black women we met at the happy hour, and what they think about AfroTech events happening in Baltimore, Baltimore’s innovation economy and more. Their answers have been edited for clarity.

Rudi Williams. (Technical.ly/Alanah Nichole Davis)

Rudi Williams, marketing associate, EcoMap Technologies

In your opinion, what is the purpose of AfroTech Happy Hour and its role in the Baltimore tech ecosystem?

I believe AfroTech Happy Hour brings together the Baltimore tech ecosystem. And it’s eliminating the digital silos that are happening here and making sure that people and organizations are connected. So here at EcoMap Technologies, we bring those digital ecosystems together. We bring all the other people, organizations and resources together so that no one is without the essential information to start their business, to bring their digital company. So I think about the Baltimore tech hub with delight and fearlessness, making sure that people are in the digital ecosystem or tech or connecting. The … entrepreneur hub is connecting, making sure entrepreneurs can start and also prosper. Really, to connect with my people from Baltimore — I’m born and raised here, and I went to school out of state, but I know there is such culture, there’s such liveliness and community here — I want to be able to be here and connect with my people.

Ciera Woods. (Technical.ly/Alanah Nichole Davis)

Ciera Woods, self-employed esthetician and recent Greater Baltimore Urban League Workforce Cybersecurity Training alumni

What brings you to AfroTech Baltimore Happy Hour?

Always wanted to [go to] AfroTech and now that I’m actively in the technology industry, I felt as though this will put me in a perfect place to excel [in] my career and meet all the other like-minded people, and meet the people that will help move me forward to my end goal.

Can you tell us about your tech-related certifications and which organizations helped you to get them?

I recently was able to obtain certification, which is CompTIA Security+, and then the second one is a Scrum Master from Scrum.org. I am officially certified to secure cyber and was able to obtain these by [the] Greater Baltimore Urban League).

What was the energy behind getting into tech for you? Were you seeing other Black women in tech?

I’d say after I realized that skincare wasn’t as stable of a job. So my second option was technology because I’ve noticed it is forever evolving and it will be here after we leave. I used to rebuild and take off viruses on my mother’s computer back in the day. It was literally just second nature. So I’ve always been into science and computer science, so I really just fell in the realm of technology.

Do you have a dream company you’d like to work for right now?

I would love to work with Booz Allen Hamilton. And, of course, every girl’s dream is Google.

Naomi WInston. (Technical.ly/Alanah Nichole Davis)

Naomi Winston, program analyst at UpSurge Baltimore 

What brings you to AfroTech Baltimore Happy Hour?

So I’ve been a part of the UpSurge Baltimore team that has really been a part of this kind of, like, AfroTech committee — really trying to showcase to AfroTech all of the amazing assets that we have in Baltimore. And so I’m really happy to be a part of this meetup community and really showcase, obviously, all the beauty that lives in Baltimore tech, for sure.

What’s your role at UpSurge Baltimore?

So I originally started off as our marketing communications analyst and then, [for the] past couple months, I’ve been programming events analysts through the Venture for America program.

What are you excited for about tech in Baltimore? What’s the most exciting thing happening right now? Is there a founder or a company that has that “wow” factor for you?

I think one of the things I’m most excited about in Baltimore tech specifically is: I originally was in the ecosystem in New Orleans and now, seeing the way and the intentionality that’s being built around Baltimore’s tech ecosystem is so incredibly inspiring. To see the intentionality that’s going behind not only building an equitable but also a profitable tech ecosystem. And that’s really the entire concept of equitech and UpSurge. I, myself, am a founder, so I’m really excited to kind of see how I grow in the ecosystem. And I’ve already been so changed and influenced by this ecosystem. I’m excited to see how they continue to support Black and brown founders.

Chante Sessom (Technical.ly/Alanah Nichole Davis)

Chante Sessom, HR business partner and manager

Tell me what you’re excited about with Baltimore’s tech ecosystem.

I’ve been with my company in the Netherlands for seven years. … I partner with our health division to help them with their all people matters mission. I’m excited for the continued growth of Baltimore. I feel like Baltimore is often overlooked and this is a space where we have a lot of leaders in our community who are making big moves. So I’m excited to be a part of that with folks.

Chante, you just introduced me to someone you’re seemingly excited about just moments ago and who is that? 

That’s Tonee Lawson.

And what’s her role in Baltimore’s tech ecosystem?

She is the founder and executive director of The Be. Org.

Tonee Lawson. (Technical.ly/Alanah Nichole Davis)

Tonee Lawson, founder and executive director, The Be. Org

What brings you to AfroTech Baltimore Happy Hour?

The Be. Org. is a youth development nonprofit serving primarily the Baltimore region. We focus on three main areas, which [are] social-emotional learning, STEM enrichment and college and career readiness. Our goal is to really prepare our young people with the intentional soft skills, those life skills, the communication leadership skills that aren’t often intentionally taught during the school day. We focus on those … so that you can pair those with their tech skills and set them up on a trajectory for life after high school — whatever that may be for them, whether it is directly to the workforce or to an institution of higher learning.

So as a founder in Baltimore, what brought you to the conclusion that you needed to provide STEM enrichment for youth in Baltimore? 

Yes, so our students need to see Black people in these careers, right? Oftentimes they give up before they even get started because STEM, it can be intimidating. So that’s why we focus on that social-emotional learning piece: the confidence, building confidence in them to let them know they are capable of achieving hard things. And then we introduce them to those STEM and tech fields and focus areas and then take it from there, and the kids actually end up loving it. We’re working to create more STEM tech professionals in this area, so that our students can see themselves, and music careers for creating a pipeline of individuals that are able to come back and give back to the younger learners and our younger students so that they can continue to be mentors. Which is another sort of market for Black professionals, for sure. …

Yeah, I just wanted to build the energy right. I wanted to be in the room. I wanted to be in the place of all the people who are moving and shaking in this Democratic bill. I wanted to be amongst the creators. I wanted to be among those that are investing in black organizations, those who are investing in Black leaders. Myself, I am clearly a Black leader, right? So make it. Make more connections and tell people about the wonderful work that we have going on. We’re approaching our 10-year anniversary in 2024, which is an amazing milestone for nonprofits.

Companies: EcoMap Technologies / UpSurge Baltimore / Fearless / TEDCO

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