A groundbreaking symposium to promote local government policies to advance blacks in technology takes place next week at Atlanta City Hall.
The Georgia Blacks in Tech Policy Conference on November 8th will present policy and initiative recommendations on how the Georgia legislature can support, cultivate, and develop a more inclusive tech ecosystem. Proposals range from educational training to building an entrepreneurial pipeline for underrepresented communities.
The all-day event is the first-of-its-kind in the state, although a meeting with a similar objective took place on Capitol Hill in 2015 by the Congressional Black Caucus. GA State Representative and diversity activist and advisor Dar’shun Kendrick is the co-chair of the event. She said she got the idea from an Atlanta Blacks in Tech event last May. “I thought it would be 100 people there but when I walked into the room, it was filled with excited blacks interested in tech,” she said.
However, presentation after presentation, she didn’t hear any concrete strategies as far as meeting goals through legislation. “No matter how much we discuss moving black technology forward, if policy is not part of the discussion, we are missing the mark.”
Co-chair Rodney Sampson, a seasoned entrepreneur and partner at TechSquare Labs, agrees. In an interview with UrbanGeekz, he talks about the significance of government involvement. “At a macro level, policy becomes the precedence for everything in our society,” he said. Sampson went on to say that the conference organizers have formulated a comprehensive, collective policy agenda as it relates to innovation, entrepreneurship, and investment.
At the upcoming conference, members of the legislature, particularly members of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus (which is the largest in the nation with 60 members in the current 2017-2018 session), will be addressed on strategies to create public-private partnerships to support the tech industry and startup ecosystem. The emphasis will be on early exposure, education & training, startup ecosystems, and capital formation.
Addressing these issues is crucial. In the United States, less than 2 percent of the technology workforce is black and Latinx; and less than 1 percent of venture capital funding goes to startups spearheaded by underrepresented founders of color.
In fact, last month at the Rainbow PUSH Tech Pitch Competition Sampson talked about how technology can be a dynamic source of wealth creation, especially for marginalized communities. This isn’t just through securing well-paid tech jobs, but also the ability to create scalable tech startups that get acquired, he said. Ultimately, selling a startup can create multigenerational wealth.
Indeed, for thriving cities like Atlanta to remain competitive, it must produce a diverse, skilled workforce with significant abilities in STEM and technology. More broadly, the U.S. as a whole needs a technologically savvy workforce for innovation, economic growth, and global competitiveness.
Given these far-reaching implications and upcoming municipal elections that are taking place on November 7th, these are issues that running candidates need to consider. Still, a recent Mayoral Tech Pitch showed that candidates, for now, are for the most part out of touch with the goals and needs of the tech community.
“Our backdrop [for this conference] is I don’t think our influencers and political leaders truly understand where the jobs of the future will be. A part of it is just exposure,” Sampson said.
He went on to say that politicians running for elected office should have people on their paid staff who understand job creation and economic empowerment of the future, especially against a backdrop of income inequality and poverty.
Additionally, the Georgia Blacks in Tech Policy Conference will honor individuals diversifying and innovating tech through education, media, corporate initiatives, and investments. Honorees chosen from the host committee of notables are:
Rodney Sampson, Partner, TechSquare Labs – GA’s “Blacks in Tech” Award for Overall Ecosystem Building
Ayana Gabriel, Arthur M. Blank Foundation – GA’s “Blacks in Tech” Award for K-12 Early Support
Paul Judge, Luma, TechSquare Labs – GA’s “Blacks in Tech” Award for Capital Formation & Growth
Kunbi Tinuoye, UrbanGeekz – GA’s “Blacks in Tech” Award for Media Amplification
Councilman Andre Dickens, Techbridge – GA’s “Blacks in Tech” Award for Adult Education
Mike Ross, MHR International, Inc. – GA’s “Blacks in Tech” Award for Investments
Nicole Jones, Delta Air Lines – GA’s “Blacks in Tech” Award for Corporate Innovation
Tiffany Bussey, Morehouse College Entrepreneurship Center – GA’s “Blacks in Tech” Award for Higher Education
The awards ceremony will close out a critical step in tech building for the future where Georgia is poised to lead the way.
Sponsors include TAG Diversity, Microsoft, Tony Byrd Broadcasting, The Cola Family, Institute for Local Innovations and others. The proceedings will take place November 8th from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can view the official website for this event here.
Main Image: Dar’shun Kendrick, co-chair of the Georgia “Blacks in Technology” Policy Conference