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4 key takeaways from the Tech Summit House at CIAA Tournament Week

As part of the Verizon-presented event series, Baltimore's tech leaders provided insights on how to embody authenticity, move past gatekeeping and counter negative narratives. Here are just some of their reflections.

Members of the "The Rise of Women in Tech" panel speak during the Tech Summit House as part of CIAA Tournament Week. (Photo by Alanah Nichole Davis)
Full disclosure: This article features quotes from CEO Delali Dzirasa of Fearless, one of Technical.ly’s Talent Builder clients. That relationship has no impact on this report.
Update: This article has been updated since its initial publication to clarify Femly leader Arion Long's comments about grant and venture funding for the company. (3/20/2022, 10:42 a.m.) 

On Friday of last week, this writer had the exciting opportunity to head down to the Inner Harbor area for a much-anticipated event: the Tech Summit House.

The event had been widely advertised and promised to feature panels with some of the brightest minds from the African American community within the tech industry. According to hosts from Visit Baltimore, the city’s main tourism agency, the Tech Summit House has become a staple at the CIAA Tournament Week, which recently concluded its second stint in Baltimore. The tournament week draws crowds, top athletes, influencers, and industry leaders from across the country to celebrate and showcase excellence in sports, culture and technology. As such, the Tech Summit House was a must-attend event for anyone interested in the latest trends and insights in the tech industry — particularly as it pertains to Black innovation and leadership.

The various panel discussions tackled topics like growing ecosystems, career opportunities, digital equity and upcoming innovations. One comment from Alana Mann, a partner at Latimer Ventures and one of the panelists in a session called “The Rising Women in Tech,” captured a sentiment underscoring much of this programming when she said: “There’s so much more that we could all be doing to bring together diverse entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders in Baltimore.”

Whether you made it out to the Tech Summit House panels or not we’ve got some key takeaways from the aforementioned panel, as well as a live recording of the “No Pix After Dark” podcast:

The challenges and triumphs of being a Black woman in tech

Brittany Young, founder and CEO of dirtbike culture-infusing STEM education org B-360, brought honesty to “The Rise of Women in Tech” by discussing how Black women are the number one group starting businesses despite the odds against them. She said she appreciated the opportunity to hone in on how, despite the obstacles, Back women can still win. Young wanted more people to focus on this positive aspect and recognize that Black women are valuable assets.

“I really appreciate my fellow speakers for them honing in on the fact that despite the obstacles, Black women can still win,” she said.

Young shared these thoughts on a panel made up entirely of Black women, including Mann and moderator Ellington West of Sonavi Labs.

Embracing authenticity and gratitude for recognition in all forms

Young added that she initially felt hurt and unrecognized when the national recognition she and B-360 received came before local acclaim and support. They initially struggled to find local funding before eventually receiving support from institutions like the Elevation Awards and Echoing Green; ultimately, Young realized that the true validation came from the people who loved and supported the STEM organization right here in Charm City – and that neither she nor B-360 no longer had to compromise their authenticity to appease funders.

Still, despite the lack of funding and recognition early on, the founder and CEO takes pride in the fact that her work is rooted in the local community that sustains it.

“Our support is rooted in the people who we work with, and so for me, that became the crux,” she said.

Fearless CEO Delali Dzirasa similarly highlighted the importance of authentic self-representation during the live recording of “No Pix After Dark.”

“For us, it’s about being authentically ourselves and staying true to our roots,” he told podcast host Aaron Dante.

Delali Dzirasa poses in black and white checkered shirt next to Aaron Dante in black hoodie with white graphic.

Delali Dzirasa (left) and Aaron Dante. (Courtesy photo)

Responsibly leveraging resources and building solidarity among Black women in tech

Arion Long, the self-proclaimed “Chief Estrogen Officer” of reproductive health-focused startup (and 2022 Technical.ly Award winner) Femly, said that she believes Black female founders should focus on leveraging the resources available to them, as well as recognizing the creativity and resourcefulness of their demographic. In her remarks during “The Rise of Women in Tech,” Long stressed the importance of diversifying funding sources and not relying solely on venture capital, which was not designed to support Black and underrepresented founders.

Despite her concerns with how Black founders get funded in Baltimore, Long said that she is thankful to be rooted in Baltimore, where she can share resources and access key investors with other founders (including B-360’s Young). Long’s approach is centered around empowering Black women in tech to work together, and she urges everyone to reject gatekeeping. As a result, she plans to launch a fellowship program for students in need who are interested in tech careers. She also mentioned that Young has helped her build a foundation to seek grants in support of Femly, which is otherwise venture-backed.

“As Black female founders, it’s important to focus on the resources we do have,” she said, adding: “We must diversify funding sources and not rely solely on venture capital.”

Rejecting gatekeeping and dismissive narratives about Baltimore

Dzirasa also spoke about gatekeeping when he and Dante discussed his view of Baltimore as a city full of opportunity and innovation despite its past narrative of poverty and violence. Like Long, he emphasized the importance of diversifying funding sources and not relying solely on venture capital.

“The narrative in Baltimore used to be despair,” Dzirasa said. “The narrative was poverty and the narrative was violence. But as you can see, as a testament here, there’s opportunity to change that. There’s innovation here. There’s excitement here.”

Companies: Fearless / B-360

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