During the weekend of Nov. 11 and 12, hundreds of entrepreneurs from around the country descended on San Francisco to attend the inaugural AfroTech Conference sponsored by Blavity.
The conference, whose aim was to connect founders, techies and employees with the fastest-growing tech startups, was completely sold out. Founded in 2014, Blavity is a technology and media company aimed at black millennials. Over the past two years Blavity has grown to become one of the fastest growing digital media outlets on the web, reaching more than 7 million readers a month. Co-sponsors of the event included: Facebook, Airbnb, YouTube, GitHub and eBay, to name a few.
AfroTech featured a wide array of panels such as, “Being a Digital Brand” and “Start-Up Survival: Building a Small Business from the Ground Up.” While several speakers hailed from corporate behemoths as BuzzFeed and REVOLT, many speakers were entrepreneurs such as Rodney Williams, founder of LISNR (a high frequency, inaudible technology that sends data over audio) and Emeka Anen, founder of THRONE (a mobile-first marketplace created to facilitate buying, selling and discovery within the footwear community). There were also several recruiters in attendance from companies such as Uber and Google in attendance.
One of the keynote speakers at AfroTech was Ben Silbermann, CEO of Pinterest. One of the first things Silbermann said once he took the stage was that there should be more African-American entrepreneurs. He shared the trials and triumphs he experienced on his journey to becoming co-founder of Pinterest. Perhaps, most interestingly, was Silbermann’s story into how raised his initial capital. After repeatedly being told ‘no’ by investors, Silbermann, entered Pinterest into a business plan competition at NYU (even though he wasn’t a student at NYU, the contest rules didn’t stipulate that entrants had to be enrolled in the school to qualify). Although the business plan came in second place, it eventually opened up the doors to his initial round of funding.
Netta Dobbins, a New York resident, said her desire to learn the intricacies of raising startup capital was the primary reason she decided to attend AfroTech. She is a social strategist at Translation and co-founder of MiMiConnect, a networking platform for professionals of color to access job opportunities, resources and a nationwide digital community.
AfroTech was as equally informative as it was inspiring. Zim Ugochukwu, founder of Travel Noire, a digital platform showcasing the experience of black travelers, was one of many inspiring speakers who shared her entrepreneurial journey. She imparted several nuggets of wisdom on the audience, including a reminder to “always value time over money.” Diamond Newman, a Washington D.C. resident, said seeing so many young African-American in an entrepreneurial space helped make her own dreams seem attainable. Newman, a librarian by day, hopes to launch an entrepreneurial platform similar to TED Talks, geared towards people of color in arts and entertainment.
Jonathan Jackson, co-Founder of Blavity, says they plan on making AfroTech an annual event, with the next one scheduled for Nov. 10 to 11, 2017 in San Francisco.