Kathryn Finney is being honored as a Champion of Change for her work to expand opportunities for young learners from communities historically underserved or underrepresented in tech fields.
Technology has the power to transform lives. I know this to be true, because it transformed my life and the life of my family. My dad, who was a high school dropout, worked his way from brewery worker in inner city Milwaukee to software engineer at Microsoft in a span of 20 years. This is a feat that could only be accomplished in the world of technology, where skill can often triumph pedigree.
In my life, technology has always been a path to economic and social security. It wasn’t until I joined one of the first tech accelerators in 2006 and encountered “the pattern”, a term used within the startup/new tech world to describe why it’s easier for some groups (i.e. young white guys from Stanford) to get funding and support than others (i.e. black women from Howard), that I fully understood the barriers faced by women and people of color in the startup world.
At digitalundivided (www.digitalundivided.com ) we dismantle “the pattern”. A significant portion of the new wealth that is being created in the United States, is being created within the tech startup eco-system. The lack of diversity in the tech space, means that communities of color aren’t benefiting from this “new economy”. At digitalundivided, we focus on making sure urban communities are prepared to actively participate in the new economy through our evidence- based digitalundivided (DID) tech model.
The DID (START, GROW, FOCUS, INVEST) is a tech model we developed after numerous interviews and group meetings with urban entrepreneurs around the country, that represents an entrepreneurial path organic to urban communities. Entrepreneurs START with an idea, then GROW that idea into a company, with FOCUS the idea become a business ready for funding and partnerships, the success of the business allows us to then INVEST in other communities or START again with a new idea.
All of our projects use the eco-system as guidance. START is the name of our local workshop series, held in six cities, focused on teaching urban entrepreneurs how to cultivate their ideas. Our first workshop was held in Atlanta in partnership with Spelman College. GROW is our network of small groups and meetups that allow entrepreneurs to network and support each other through the development of their companies.
FOCUS is the name of our signature program that mentors, develops, and advises tech companies with African American women as co-founders. A major part of this program is the annual FOCUS100 Startup Bootcamp and Symposium. At the inaugural event, held October 2012, there were African American women tech founders and co-founders from nearly 50 companies. Since FOCUS100 2013, over 30% of the companies in attendance received next step meetings with top angel and venture capital, raising over $20 million dollars in angel and seed funding from major investors like Andreesen Horowitz and Dreamit Ventures, won praises from publications like TechCrunch and the Wall Street Journal, and are working in markets as diverse as agricultural exchanges, Plus Size Fashion, and Software as a Service (SaaS). Over 80% of our speakers are women or people of color, leading #FOCUS100 to be one of the most diverse tech events on the planet.
INVEST is focused on creating and supporting a network of black Angel and Venture Capital Investors.
We would love to hear from other organizations, foundations, and social enterprises looking to fundamentally change the digital space.
Kathryn Finney is the Founder and Managing Director of digitalundivided (DID).