With the graphic design landscape crowded, Michael Hall needed to refocus his career. A friend in the technology sector showed him how.
Today, Hall is head of Digital Grass Innovation & Technology, a company with a focus on diversity that supports tech startups, in lieu of an infusion of cash.
Hall is one of upwards of 30 speakers who will share his journey about being an entrepreneur in Miami at Black Tech Week, Feb. 23-28.
Timed with Black History Month, the week-long series of events will celebrate Black innovators, showcase their work and create networking moments. The program will focus on discussions and explore ideas about how to grow Black entrepreneurship and encourage the wider Black community to move from being consumers of social media and technology to creators.
Behind the effort is Code Fever founder Felecia Hatcher. Hatcher started out as being a consumer of technology, using social media to grow and popularize another one of her businesses, Feverish Pops.
Hatcher and her “techie” husband, Derick Pearson, spent a lot of time on the West Coast and experienced the startup fever; they did not notice a strong tech movement in South Florida.
“I would go to a tech meet up here and there and I would wonder where are the people who look like me,” said Hatcher. “That’s not to say that we shouldn’t go to tech events where there is only one or two of us. We really should go to everything.”
Still she noticed that the attendees at the events were pretty homogeneous and wondered about how tech education would reach Miami’s diverse population. Enter Code Fever, an organization that teaches minority youth how to code and build entrepreneurial skills.
Hatcher has taken all the experience she has gathered to put on Miami’s first Black Tech Week. Two weeks before its start, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation granted Black Tech Week $100,000.
Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation program director for Miami and one of the presenters during Black Tech Week, said supporting Black Tech Week is a part of the Knight Foundation building the tech ecosystem in Miami.
“Supporting the work and ideas of our city’s diverse community of entrepreneurs is key to putting Miami on the map as a global innovation hub,” said Haggman. “Black Tech Week will help bolster the strong community of black entrepreneurs who are contributing to the success of our city and build new bridges with tech leaders around the world.”
Day One, Feb. 23, kicks off at Booker T. Washington High School with “Monday Hour of Tech.” Later that day, there is a mentor mixer. EchoVech Visions hosts a pitch competition on Day Two. Miami Beach hosts “Manufacturing 4.0” on Day Three. Days Four and Five take place on Miami Dade College North Campus. A two-day summit will touch on startups in Africa and the Caribbean, diversity, biotech, law, finance and funding.
Hall of Digital Grass said by rolling all the topics entrepreneurs need in one week can help grow the foundation for minorities in tech, which he thinks stands at about 10 percent.
“In South Florida, we are a small number and we support each other by building a new colliding point,” Hall said.
One of those new points is helping investment groups focus more on inclusion.
“We have to educate the community on the potential,” Hall said. “That means education on nontraditional investments that extend beyond brick and mortar products. We need to change that perspective to show the deals are there. But if you sit in a bubble or don’t invite others in, it’s hard to find good deal flow.”
Hall explained the funding environment like this: “Imagine we have people that have a barrier or problem traveling across county lines, especially south to north. If they have those barriers in driving 20-50 miles, imagine the boundaries when trying to do business in an environment where you are less that 10 percent.”
Black Tech Week will feature prominent global investors, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, including: Chinedu Echeruo, founder of online city transit guide, HopStop; Eric Osiakwan, InAngel Africa advisor, TED fellow and investor; Justin Washington, quality assurance engineer at social media company, SnapChat; Brian Brackeen, founder of Miami-based facial recognition software company, Kairos; Ingrid Riley, founder of Jamaica-based tech networking company, Connectimass, and organizer for Startup Weekend Jamaica; Stonly Baptiste, founder of Miami-based Urban.us that supports urban tech startups; Pandwe Gibson, founder of Miami-based EcoTech Visions, an incubator supporting green businesses; Jon Gosier, founder of market research and tech firm, Appfrica, tech investment company, Apps4Africa, and co-founder of big data company, MetaLayer.
Hall and Hatcher agree that having Black Tech Week during Black History Month is a way to celebrate the past, present and future.
“It’s for those who celebrate inclusion and all cultures of the African Diaspora,” Hall said.” There is no reason this project can’t be as big as eMerge Americas, if given the same support.”
eMerge Americas tech conference, also sponsored by the Knight Foundation, is set for May 1-5 in Miami Beach.
“We can have breakfasts and parades but what are they doing to advance the mission?” Hatcher asks. “Those things are important, but we are showing people a way to economic freedom. This is the time to get into tech when the barriers to entry are minimal. These companies cost less to start than traditional businesses
For tickets and more information, go to BlackTechWeek.com