Editor’s Note: Christian Gumbo is a local blogger and tech enthusiast getting involved in the local tech & startup space. This is the first post for her new bi-weekly column that will cover diversity on the Silicon Bayou including entrepreneur profiles, events, and collaborations. If you would like to speak to Christian for an interview or to provide information on a local resource, contact us.
Welcome to my new column covering women & minorities in technology! With all the excitement surrounding #SXSW, #NOEW, funding rounds, billion dollar buyouts, and entrepreneur success stories in the nationwide startup community, the big fat elephant in the room is getting its 17 minutes of fame. The elephant is the severe lack of diversity in Silicon everywhere.
I’m not one to focus on problems, just solutions. So a couple of weeks ago, I proposed 6 Ways To Diversify Silicon Bayou to advocate that Silicon Bayou’s growing startup ecosystem makes a conscious effort to be inclusive and represent gumbo of hot talent. @MollyOehmichen took the conversation further with a great Diversity Takes Center Stage editorial.
She’s not a local, so why should you know about Christine? Glad you asked! Opportunities often present themselves based on who you know.
Christine is definitely a person worth knowing because she is:
- One of the Top 10 Most Powerful Women In The DC Startup Community.
- On the Ambassador Council for Baltimore’s Emerging Technology Center Incubator, which offers incubator programs geared toward growing early stage technology-based companies in Baltimore City.
- National Advisory board member for The America21 Project, an open, collaborative and innovative platform that supports STEM Education and Workforce Development, provides access to capital and capital formation, and promotes High-Growth Entrepreneurship.
- National Advisory board member for Digital Harbor Foundation, a Maryland-based nonprofit working to foster a culture of innovation, technological advancement, and entrepreneurship in the Greater Baltimore Area through local and national educational initiatives.
- A connector, diversity in tech advocate, and loves New Orleans!
We caught up via phone to share our thoughts on why the tech startup space still lacks diversity in 2012. Other topics discussed were her organization’s activities, how she can serve as a connector for the startup community here, ways to raise awareness about tech opportunities in urban communities, and what we can do to be advocates for women & minorities pursuing careers/businesses in technology.
Some highlights of the conversation:
- The obvious but not so obvious fact that members of minority communities seldom come into contact with people in local technology communities, which is often a byproduct of not being a part of their networks.
- Minorities and Silicon everywhere types tend to live in two different worlds, resulting in a continuous lack of awareness and missed opportunities to build relationships. As a result, non-techie minorities are not aware of, do not attend, and/or cannot afford to attend technology focused conferences (& unconferences) such as SXSW & NOEW.
- Likewise, the tech rock stars tend not to be present at minority focused conferences such as the Urban League Conference & business/entrepreneurship expos during the annual Essence Festival. For example, Launchfest coincides with New Orleans Jazzfest and TribeCon was integrated into Voodoo Fest, creating opportunities for networking, learning, and sharing ideas related to the tech space. Technology should also become an integral part of minority focused conferences going forward to facilitate those same opportunities.
- Schools in minority communities are funded for standard education opportunities, not to groom students to disrupt/participate the tech space. We have to expose our children to the possibilities available in the tech space so that they too can be empowered to create value, businesses, and positive change through technology.
- Urban focused media has not historically celebrated or highlighted the opportunities available in technology companies/careers. Urban programming & digital media outlets tend to focus on highlighting entertainment-related routes to success, which we all know has a huge influence on behavior. As such, urban city students/dwellers are not exposed to how uber sexy the tech world really is on a consistent basis.
- Tech stars from HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) are not given enough media attention and celebrity treatment to have a larger influence on more minorities pursuing careers/businesses in technology.
I was interested in finding out how she became more involved and proactive to increase diversity in the Baltimore/Washington corridor. I do not want to keep talking (er, typing), I want to get out and do something. I believe that we have untapped potential in this city to feed the growth of this wonderful ecosystem.
Actionable ideas that came out of the conversation that can be implemented on the local level:
- Hold panel discussions at urban high schools and HBCUs. There were only 30-40 students at New Orleans Tech’s Teen Tech Day. Who wants to join me in facilitating panel discussions to raise awareness and expose young minds to tech on the ground level more than once a year?
- Hold contests to send promising urban youth to SXSW & NOEW next year. Can we get some sponsors?
- Minority techies, please stand up! Where are you? Silicon Bayou writers are looking for you.
- Engage youth on social media. We have to reach out to them and show them more productive ways to use the internet & social media in the Web 2.0 era. Who wants to collaborate on how to achieve this? Is a new social network or online space just for recruiting, engaging and mentoring urban Silicon Bayou teens/college students for careers in tech the answer?
- The Posse Foundation has stepped up to offer scholarships to local urban city youth. Where are the tech community scholarships?
Lets continue the diversity dialogue and collaborate on ways to ensure that the Silicon Bayou is the sexiest, most spicy and inclusive startup space in the world.
Thanks to Christine for taking the time to speak to me. We appreciate your willingness to be a connector and your great insights. We look forward to seeing you this summer and will try our best to get you to relocate here!
For everyone else, see you at Launchfest!