These, according to panelists on Saturday’s “Black Women in Tech: Uncovering Barriers to Entry” panel at South by Southwest, are the top three barriers to black women looking to enter the tech space. Panelists included Blogalicious co-founder Stacey Ferguson, who is a technology intellectual property attorney, as well as startup founder Marissa Jennings, and tech CEO Aaron Saunders.
The first barrier to entry is money.
Jennings noted that her first crowd sourcing campaign was not a success, but she learned a lot from the experience and was able to leverage those lessons the next time she asked for money. It was a good learning experience she said, even if she was disappointed, and was able to use connections with funders and other groups around the country during the fundraising to take her company, Socialgrlz, to the next level.
Saunders noted that, unlike some startups who gather their initial seed money from friends and family, the black community may not have that kind of capital. So you’re not going to ask your family and friends for your first $25,000 — which can be a barrier to black women who may not have access to venture capitalists or angel investors.
Another barrier to entry is technology, or the ability to build or manage it.
“Being part of the innovation economy doesn’t mean you have to be a coder,” said Ferguson, noting that she herself is not a software engineer.
You also have to be unafraid to ask stupid questions, Saunders said, because if you’re not an engineer you’re going to have the bridge the gap that exists between creative and tech people.
“The people in the room need to find some way to help a technologist help them with their success,” he said. “Even if it’s a mentor from outside the (black) community, someone that you trust to help you get there.”
Jennings, of Socialgrlz, said the most important things to her as a black female entrepreneur to build her team are the “3 Ds”: doers, donors and door openers. You can’t build your team unless you have these types of people to help you develop your company, she said.
Finally, mentoring has proven to be a barrier to entry to some black women, who have trouble navigating the startup, funding, or tech world, according to panelists.
“It’s really incumbent upon all of us to do what we can to show the girls that this can be their future,” said Ferguson, noting that everyone should be a mentor to whoever they can be.