If society ever made you question whether there was a place for people of color in entrepreneurship, technology and media...AFROTECH is your answer...
And that answer is helllllll yeah! When I think about the role Blavity has played in building and spreading Black millennial culture over the last few years, the impact is undeniable. The platform allows people to engage with relevant, interesting content in a context with which they are familiar and feel comfortable sharing with others. I was particularly excited to attend AfroTech this year because my amazing classmate, Aaron, is one of the cofounders. After seeing how he balanced his classes @ Stanford and his role with Blavity in LA, we were so proud to support him and see what he cooks up while he's away. Leading up to the event, there were Slack and Facebook groups for all attendees that provided people a place to connect and create relationships ahead of the conference. So when we showed up, the stage had already been set to feel warm and familial...like a reunion.
The first day of the conference consisted of three tracks--entrepreneurship, marketing and engineering. As a part-time VC, I was most drawn to the entrepreneurship track and was hoping to scope out some cool new companies to take back to my firm. A secret (but not so secret) tenant in my personal investment thesis is to "give as much money as possible, to as many people of color as possible, in the most responsible way possible." Quote me on this. :-) That being said, I was pumped to catch the pitch competition! The energy of the entrepreneurs and the risk they take presenting to hundreds of people was inspiring to watch. I appreciated the structure that allowed for 10 pitches in a rapid fire format that included the founder pitches and feedback from 3-4 judges: Brian Dixon (Kapor Capital), Kolbie Fuller (Upfront Ventures), Monique Woodard (500 Startups) and Michael Seibel (Y Combinator). I'd also like to toot my own horn that I had the opportunity to flex my VC muscles and selected 4 finalists all on my own! Of course no one else knew, but I knew, and now you know.
Some of my other favorites parts of the weekend:
Jason Mayden - I'm certain this guy was plucked from someone's pulpit in Alabama (I'm from Alabama, so I can say this). This is my second time hearing him speak and both times I've been absolutely moved. He is knowledgeable, he is real, he is motivating. He has a coach's spirit and it permeated through the room as his energy never waned throughout his talk.
Marlon Nichols - Venture capital can sometimes feel like a dark, creepy, confusing space. It can be hard for entrepreneurs to understand where they fit in and how they are dividing up ownership of their babies. Further, entrepreneurs who have never raised money and are new to Silicon Valley are in a tough position when it comes to negotiating terms and valuations. Marlon walked the crowd through how capitalization tables work and how ownership stakes get diluted with each round of capital. It is super important to learn these hard skills of investing and entrepreneurship.
Mandela SH Dixon - "It's Lit! So Bright! Issa party? DAMN RIGHT!"
Recruiting - Although I'm not in college, I know how critical access to recruiters in high-demand industries is. I never had insight into technology careers as I was growing up or through college. That's why I am so firm that exposure is key. This is really what is going to change lives at Blavity.
And finally, Bozoma. I have no words. Her ability to engage with the crowd, to connect with all ages, to express her flaws and her perfections all at once made her my favorite of the conference. She blew me away and the Blavity team could not have selected a better closing keynote.
Cheers to you, Blavity!