Silicon Valley’s Diversity Problem Needs a Study

Silicon Valley’s Diversity Problem Needs a Study

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These days Victor MacFarlane’s name may be linked to a failed real estate transaction in San Francisco, but he is known primarily as one of the few Black multi-millionaires in Silicon Valley.  He is also the type with capital needed to invest in many Black entrepreneurs seeking capital for their various ventures. The real estate mogul who heads MacFarlane Partners has been a key handler of funds that actually bankrolled some successful ventures in the Valley area.

Turning successful Black angels and venture capitalists like McFarlane into investors for Black tech firms was one of several solutions a group of academics, policy makers, techpreneurs, engineers and private companies discussed during a recent forum at  the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

A brand new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs,  co-hosted the meeting – coincidentally scheduled within the same week  as CNN’s Black in America 4 presented the controversial story of the dearth of Black techpreneurs succeeding in Silicon Valley.

While there are many negatives – including what and who isn’t succeeding – there are some success stories. Still, there is much work to be done.

Dubbed “Innovation & Minority Digital Entrepreneurship,” the gathering of experts agreed that before anyone can make a credible case for what must be done to reverse abysmal minority participation numbers, someone must research, quantify and provide recommendations for the techpreneur landscape.

Not all attending were that convinced most of the problems were rooted in racism.

“If you are asking someone to give you a couple million dollars, they have to believe in you,” said York Eggleston, CEO of Semantic Labs, a Herndon, VA-based  technology laboratory that houses operational and intellectual software. “They fundamentally don’t believe in us.”

But there are other issues rooted in race. Parents and children wanting to pursue a career in tech don’t know the path to acceptance in top engineering schools. Black angel funders  just are not giving back enough and investing in Black businesses.  Studies have found that the National Instiute for Health and the National Science Foundation are not offering grants to minorities for research.  Black entrepreneurs who are able to court interest still do not know how to get the best finance deal terms. Not enough Blacks work in existing technology firms.

The problems are plenty, but this group concluded that data would be needed before government, private and philanthropic institutions could do more.

The take away: Create white papers. Conduct research and create the accurate details and data around the message.

“Although the barriers minority entrepreneurs face are not new, we are now seeing more public discourse on this issue and NAMDE will continue to be at the forefront of the ongoing dialog,” said Erin Horne Montgomery, Executive Director of NAMDE. “We are meeting and partnering with numerous groups, companies, philanthropic organizations, and government bodies to connect them to our diverse and growing database of tech entrepreneurs of color, to share with them the narrative of those we represent, and to develop concrete and long-term solutions.”

1 COMMENT

  1. First and foremost is that some see a "problem" whereas others see opportunity. Consider the latter group the true entrepreneurs and investors whose efforts should be studied.

    Silicon Valley stands as a metaphor; a mecca for technology and entrepreneurship. The passive indictment of SV as monolithic strikes me as ironic, for there's not an industry that has championed behaviors like open- source development and virtual networking like computing and consumer electronics. America's computing industry probably accelerated the pace of globalization like no other industry. My point being whether you're interest is in a STEM-related career or entrepreneurship in general, the lessons to be learned from SV are freely available and easily duplicated — particularly in the U.S.

    Despite my belief STEM and entrepreneurship are mutually-exclusive disciplines whereby asking 'Where's the Black Larry Ellison' serves no good purpose but to inevitably make us all class warriors, I'm fully aware women, African-Americans, and Latino Americans continue to be underrepresented, particularly in STEM-related careers. I also know some of the causes for the low numbers are historical and legal; others are contemporary and cultural. However, I do not agree social diversity equals or enhances intellectual diversity of the type needed to build and maintain a profitable business, STEM-related or otherwise. I also don't believe scapegoating SV as an old boy's network addresses why so few women, Latinos, and Af-Ams pursue an education and/or career in a STEM-related discipline.

    The other problem with politicizing entrepreneurship is business goals are often incompatible with various social goals, especially at those points were one's race, ethnicity, gender, etc., add nothing of sustainable economic value to the enterprise. IMO, this is why so many 'diversity initiatives' evolve into modern plantations; the actual relationships between majority and minority groups don't change.

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