Finally, a place where ideas and industries converge
Growing up, my educational opportunities always came in silos. From organizations I joined, to conferences I attended, to internships- the variation of explored topics was very limited. During my undergraduate degree at the Georgia Institute of Technology, there were very few non-technical classes offered, and most classes were taken at the expense of your graduation timeline and tuition.
Cue the learning opportunity of a lifetime— Interactive/Digital week at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, TX. The unique ability to immerse yourself into a wide range of endless thoughtful programming provided my mind with a buffet of food for thought. The only alignment of topics was in the caliber of conversation.
Kapor Center explores SXSW
We knew we found our space when we entered this room full of driven founders fighting for underrepresented communities. Titan Generator — a micro-accelerator focused on supporting entrepreneurs of color working on social movements — organized a powerful convening of 80+ entrepreneurs of color who are focused on pressing national issues.
Powerful community leaders who are working on their ventures shared best practices and discussed common challenges. We were excited to debut and announce our Tech Done Right Challenge — a $1M funding challenge focused on organizations across the U.S. tackling systemic exclusion to make tech inclusive for underrepresented communities.
The application is now open until May 7th, 2019!
SMASH @ SXSW
We brought SMASH alumni with us to SXSW for the first time! SMASH Academy is a three-year STEM-intensive residential college prep program that empowers students to deepen their talents and pursue STEM careers. It was an unparalleled experience for our young people — they increased their professional networks and learned new ideas from tech industry professionals from across the globe.
“As an aspiring medical device entrepreneur and founder these events really helped me network and learn what others in my position have done with their careers.” — SMASH alum
Diversity Advocates Meet-up
Diversity Advocates advances inclusion in the tech industry by empowering employees of tech companies with the resources, knowledge and network to do pioneering work. People from all around the diversity sphere met up in downtown Austin to mix, mingle, and eat Torchy’s tacos.
“As part of the Diversity Advocates community, I stay connected with D&I professionals in tech who share practices and resources online. But getting to meet Diversity Advocates from all across the country in person at during our meetup was a highlight for me! Members like Ruben Cantu, Janice Omadeke, and Naji Kelley, who brought our group together in Austin, make being a part of this group so special!” — Cynthia Overton, Director of Tech Workplace Initiatives
“As an unlikely candidate for a startup, I’ve built much of my company with very little support. During my pitch, I can’t begin to describe the overwhelming feeling of looking into the crowd and seeing so many familiar Kapor faces cheering me on — all the way in Austin. I’m beyond grateful for their support & encouragement.” — Kai Frazier, Founder of CuratedxKai
Meanwhile, our Kapor Capital Partner, Brian Dixon, judged the “Social and Culture Technology” Pitch Competition hosted by SXSW.
“SXSW did a great job organizing a wide range of gap-closing startups for the SXSW Impact Pitch Competition. As a judge, I was excited to see the impact focused pitch competition on the main stage at the conference. I hope to see more gap-closing programming integrated into main parts of SXSW and other conferences moving forward.” — Brian Dixon, Kapor Capital Partner
As for panels… Let’s unify these conversations
Given my role at the Kapor Center, I focus on Oakland Tech Startup Ecosystem building. Naturally, I attended many workshops and panels on growing startup cities, building community, and the future of work.
At the end of every panel, I asked the same question which failed to be addressed: “What about including those historically underrepresented in this economic growth?”
Ironically, on two different occasions I was redirected to check out the Kapor Center!
SXSW had its fair share of diversity panels, some even led by people of color, however I fail to understand why these diversity conversations consistently took place in different spaces than those on innovation and growth. If diversity panels simply advocate to an audience who is already in agreement, are we really making change? How do you grow a community, city, globe- when you are leaving out the same people over and over again? I keep wondering: Why are we having these conversations in different rooms?
Our very own, Director of Tech Workplace Initiatives, Dr. Cynthia Overton, Chief Research Officer, Dr. Allison Scott, and Chief Tech Community Officer, Lili Gangas sat on panels at SXSW and spoke about this perspective. Cynthia and Allison shared their insights on the future of tech, automation, and Black representation in our tech economy. Lili shared Kapor Center best practices and tactics on Scaling Impact: Resources for Social Entrepreneurs.
Some of the most inspiring parts of the conference took place outside the digital space. I was able to witness first hand the incredible intimate shows from some of my favorite artists- from J Balvin and Mr. Eazi to bbymutha. I was moved by music video, “Pa’lante” of Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria and inspired by the Q&A with the Director and his relentless fight for Puerto Rico to be noticed.
Sergio Rosas, Program Lead of Tech Done Right, attended Stacey Abrahms’s conversation. The room was filled with a wide range of conversation from reparations to running for office to her love life.
“Listening to Stacey Abrams was powerful. Her resilience to fight against voter suppression is inspiring, but also highlights the racism that exists in our electoral institutions and the critical importance of fighting for representation at all levels of government.” — Sergio Rosas, Program Lead of Tech Done Right
After many long days and nights in Austin, the Diversity & Inclusion conversation I found most enlightening was watching the film, “Why can’t I be me? Around you.” Listening to middle-aged, middle-America men find logic they can relate to by rationalizing their friends’ gender transition showed me how accessible inclusivity can be with some empathy. It was eye-opening.
Thank you and next time…in Oakland
As grateful as I am for the opportunity to attend SXSW, it would be remiss of me to not mention the massive barriers to entry into these spaces. SXSW is an exorbitantly expensive conference and therein lacks diversity of every kind in most spaces. Imagine what these workshops and showcases could be with more accessibility and representation. This just means we need to create something of our own. SXSW is the highest revenue generator for Austin, TX outside of athletic events. Imagine if we could create something like that for and by underrepresented communities!