Where Are the Black Internet Entrepreneurs?

Black and Hispanic innovators are scarce in Silicon Valley. But one group of black entrepreneurs is trying to tap some of that famed technology wisdom.

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zuckerberg
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg

Silicon Valley is one of the most diverse places on the planet -- except for the glaring absence of blacks and Hispanics. African Americans are just not visible in this hotbed of technology innovation. Black Web 2.0's Angela Benton is trying to do something about it, reports the Washington Post's Vivek Wadhwa.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, as of 2008, blacks and Hispanics constituted only 1.5 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively, of the Valley’s tech population -- well below national tech-population averages of 7.1 percent for blacks and 5.3 percent for Hispanics. And the Silicon Valley numbers were declining while national numbers were rising.

It is worse in the ranks of tech company founders.

So I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit the NewME Accelerator, last night.  This is a group of eight minority-led startups that is renting a house in Mountain View, CA -- in the heart of Silicon Valley. These entrepreneurs are from places like New York and North Carolina, and from other parts of California. They are hosting dinners (hamburgers and BBQ) at their place and inviting Silicon Valley's elite to visit and speak to them. It's a novel concept, conceived by Angela Benton, CEO of Black Web Media, and her entrepreneur friends, Wayne Sutton and Toby Morning.

The key to achieving success is to learn from others and to network. That is exactly what this group is trying to do. But it's going to take a lot more. This group needs the same advantage that is provided by technology company accelerators like Y-Combinator, Founder Institute, and TechStars. In these, highly-successful entrepreneurs actively mentor the startups and provide introductions to investors, business partners, and customers. They provide the startups an unfair advantage.

This is important, because innovation flourishes when there is diversity, and we desperately need more innovation and startups to heal our economy. We can both improve the quality of U.S. innovation and uplift disadvantaged communities by mentoring minorities.

Source: the Washington Post.

The truth is that blacks have been involved in Silicon Valley from the start -- but in small numbers. Roy Clay set up the first computer lab at Hewlett-Packard when it was still a test-instrument company. Marc Hannah was chief scientist at Silicon Graphics, the pioneering maker of powerful workstations. John Thompson, as CEO of Symantec, oversaw its explosive growth into a billion-dollar company. But that's too few and far between. With black folks heavy users of consumer technologies like cellular and Twitter, fresh ideas are bound to emerge. But Wadhwa is right to ask, "Where is the black Mark Zuckerberg?"

Read more about the Silicon Valley push at the Washington Post.