Hank Williams, serial entrepreneur and founder of Platform, has died at the age of 50 following complications of myocarditis that can cause inflammation and damage to the heart.
Williams passed away on Sunday after a weeklong stint at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in New Jersey. He is survived by his wife, Mayida, and their three-year-old daughter, Imani.
The New Yorker is best known for launching Internet music company ClickRadio in 1998 and cloud storage and data management platform Kloudco in 2008. In recent years Williams spearheaded Platform, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to increasing diversity in the technology industry, and more broadly, the innovation economy.
Platform’s signature event is its annual deal-making conference, which brings together a host of illustrious speakers, from tech gurus and investors to media luminaries and entrepreneurs. Now in its third year, the high-caliber summit attracts well-connected attendees and executives who are given a unique platform to make deals and forge ongoing networks.
In a broadcast interview with UrbanGeekz at last year’s Platform, Williams said issues that specifically hinder aspiring black and Latino entrepreneurs is lack of access to funding and networks.
“I think there are two big challenges for minorities in tech and innovation,” said Williams. “One is finding the resources to do the things that you want be able to. The second is having access to networks that can support your efforts. If you don’t have capital, if you don’t have access to networks, it’s very difficult to be successful.”
Following the news of his untimely death, technology industry veterans and diversity advocates spoke to UrbanGeekz to pay tribute to the life and legacy of Williams for his tireless work to empower women and people of color in the tech sector.
“Hank was a good friend and colleague,” said Lotus founder Mitch Kapor, who now heads the Kapor Center for Social Impact. “I will miss him deeply. In just three short years, his Platform Summit became the preeminent gathering place for a community committed to making a tech ecosystem as diverse as America itself. Hank has left us with a legacy that will continue to bring about change for another generation.”
The first annual Platform Summit was held at the MIT Media Lab, but over the last two years it settled at Atlanta’s Morehouse College. “For the last two years it has been a wonderful partnership,” said Morehouse College President Dr. John S. Wilson. “Hank’s leadership and voice were heroic, and I see no better way to honor him than by continuing the push to diversify the innovation economy in all the ways he imagined, insisted and planned.”
“Hank Williams was one of the rare individuals working on diversifying the tech industry who also had an extensive body of work, credentials, and successes prior to the industry’s recent interest in the area,” said Angela Benton, founder of San Francisco-based tech accelerator platform, NewME.
Benton and Williams were among eight African American entrepreneurs who lived together in Silicon Valley for nine weeks in 2011 as part of the inaugural NewME accelerator program, founded by Benton and Wayne Sutton. CNN chronicled their experience in Soledad O’Brien’s award-winning series Black In America: The New Promised Land — Silicon Valley, which focused on the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley.
“If you’ve had the opportunity to have a conversation with Hank you’ll agree that his presence in the industry will, undeniably, be irreplaceable. Individuals like him, with such a passion and genuine spirit, are far and few between,” added Benton. “His work, having already impacted millions of people, has already left a legacy. However I’m looking forward to seeing how the industry comes together to help support his vision and continue his work.”
“Hank was a visionary, steadfast to his goal of equal opportunity and wealth creation for the underserved brilliance in our society, said Andrea Hoffman, Founder & CEO of Culture Shift Labs, who was both a longtime personal friend and colleague of Williams. “He was a doer, a co-creator, and a creative problem solver. My favorite quote from Hank that reflects his spirit is this ‘Platform is my gift to the community’. I will do my part to keep his work, spirit and vision alive.”
“Hank deeply understood and invested in the value of community,” said Karla Monterroso, VP of Programs for CODE2040. “He was a wonderful soul who did the work of being supporter and sponsor for various communities. He has a special place in the heart of our organization. We are so grateful for the work he did to highlight the brilliance of the black and Latino community through Platform. He will be deeply missed.”
“Hank Williams was a singularly extraordinary person,” said Adaora Udoji, an award-winning journalist and media consultant. “A scientist. A humanist. He understood the challenge of diversity in tech and he did something about. He provided visibility for talented and brilliant people of color doing things right now, today. He showed the world we exist. The loss is immeasurable and simply tragic.”
“Hank was one of those rare people who can take a vague idea and turn it into something real and impactful,” said New York-based Google Engineering Director Marcus Mitchell. “I will miss him as a colleague and a friend, but the Platform he built will endure.”
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